The Privilege

A respected lecturer recently told me that it’s a privilege to be present as a new life begins, and to be present as a life ends. This is what nursing affords you – this privilege to be present at times of joy, grief and vulnerability. I saw this vulnerability in its rawest form while on my current placement in an acute care hospital in regional Victoria.

My first clinical placement in an acute care hospital setting had the obvious nerves and doubts running through my mind. Having never worked in a hospital before, I was unsure whether I could perform the necessary skills, especially injections and preparing medication solutions to deliver through IV lines. We haven’t had to do venipuncture yet, so that will be another doubt to cross in the near future. The communication aspect of the role does not trouble me though – I do enjoy interacting with people, especially when I can help them feel better about themselves or the situation that they have found themselves in.

My communication skills would be immediately tested though, when I first encountered a patient who had recently been told he had from three weeks to three months to live. It seemed all he heard was the three weeks part of that statement and he wanted to die. He was of sound mind and he was in pain. He initially looked scared and I can understand that – how do you process such a statement? We’re all guilty of wishing time away when we’re doing something we don’t necessarily like but what would go through your mind when someone tells you that your time left is so short? I watched as he seemingly went through phases – from the initial scare to the occasional cheeky smile and smart remark as we tried to lighten the mood for him, to the times when I just had to silently stand there and be with him.

One afternoon as I was walking down the hall of the ward, I noticed he was attempting to get out of bed, but wasn’t getting very far. By this stage, his pain had reached a level where the basic effort of moving his body was too much, but he was still determined to try. I walked into his room and asked what he was trying to do. “I need to piss”. He was clutching onto the side rails of the bed, trying to lift his frail body up. In this moment, I knew he probably shouldn’t have been trying to get out of bed, but his determination to move seemed more important. So, I lowered the bed and offered my hand to help him get up. It took some time and I could see how hard it was for him, but none of that mattered in this moment. He needed to do this. He needed to show that he was still capable of something, even if it was just the act of getting out of bed.

After the initial struggle of helping him out of bed, the next challenge was getting to the toilet. Yes, he could have just went in his bottle, but he didn’t want that. All I was thinking at this time was to maintain his dignity and independence, even though he couldn’t move without some support there. I held his right arm to prop him up as he slowly shuffled a few centimetres with each thrust. He kept apologising and I kept telling him he had nothing to apologise for. I was here to help him and we had all the time in the world (this won’t always be possible in the world of nursing, but I sure hope I’ll be able to be present whenever the need is there without having to rush off to the next patient).

We eventually reached the toilet and his pyjama pants had already fallen enough that he didn’t need to lower them. He was losing weight, which was another frustration for him. He started to go and mostly missed the bowl. Again, he apologised and sounded upset. Again, I reassured him that he had nothing to apologise for. I stood behind him, still holding onto his side. It sounded like it was a real effort to pee, but he managed to get a little out. He just stood there for what seemed a long pause as I continued to hold his side. “Well done mate, do you want to make your way back to bed?” He nodded and we started the slow shuffle back, with each move causing visible pain.

As we reached his bed, he slowly lowered himself onto the edge and sat there. I thought it was a good idea for him to sit up for a bit since he’d made the effort to get up. As he was sitting there, I asked if there was anything I could do: “get a knife”. He looked at me and his eyes were telling me he was serious. I have been a strong advocate of voluntary euthanasia laws for as long as I’ve been aware of the issue (I did my year 12 english essay on the topic, which shows how long this issue has been going here). This moment will sit with me as proof of when these laws should be acted upon. He was of sound mind, in immense pain, and he had had enough. He was losing his dignity and quality of life. I told him I would do as much as I could, but that I couldn’t do what he wanted. I said we were trying to make this time as comfortable for him as possible, but he replied “if I was a dog, I’d be put down already”. I couldn’t argue with that. Thankfully, Victoria will be legalising voluntary euthanasia as of mid-2019 with some of the most conservative laws in the world, but that didn’t help him in this moment.

Later that night, he was in bed and looked uncomfortable as I passed his room. I walked in and asked how he was: “shit, mate”. By this stage, he had been started on morphine for the pain, but it hadn’t taken effect yet. I walked up to his side and took his hand. With the little strength he had, he held my hand back and I just stood there. I didn’t say a word, I just held his hand and looked at him. I knew there wasn’t much else I could do, and all those times I’d been told of how communication is more about the non-verbal than the verbal came into my mind and rang true. I thought about my lecturer’s remark, of the privilege to be present at the end of a life, and that also rang true. And I continued to just stand there and hold his hand.

holding hands

That was the last time I saw him. It was a Thursday night and my shifts meant that I wasn’t back in the ward until Tuesday morning. This is when I learned of his passing on the Sunday. It was bittersweet – I knew he wanted to go, but I was still sad that I wasn’t there. This will be a continual lesson for me to know that I won’t always be there at the end, but as long as I’m present when I can be, I will take that. It is indeed a privilege to be in this position and it is a privilege I hope to never forget, or take for granted. RIP dear man.

Vale Dolores O’Riordan

The soundtrack of my teens…

It seems this is a common reaction to news of the premature passing of Dolores O’Riordan, lead singer of Irish band The Cranberries. Dolores was only 46-years-old and is survived by her ex-husband and three children. Not to mention the legacy of her stunning voice and poignant lyrics.

This reaction mimics mine completely. The Cranberries came into my life at a time when things were very confusing and often troubling – my teens. Trying to figure myself out and my place in the world (an ongoing battle).

When I first heard Dolores’ distinctive vocals, it instantly got my attention. I wanted to hear more. My first taste of what was to come was the track Dreams, released in 1993 from their debut album Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? Melodic rock, matched perfectly with warbling and haunting vocals. Without the benefit of online streaming in those days, it meant heading to the music store to seek out more. I found their album and did something I didn’t do all that often in those days – I bought the album instead of just the single. Something told me this was different. It sure was – all 12 tracks on the album did what only truly great music does – it took me on a journey of emotions through very relatable experiences, even at the tender age of 14 at the time. The Cranberries‘ music absolutely moved me, as cliched as that might sound.

The follow-up album, No Need To Argue, released one year later in 1994, took this so much further. 14 songs that truly helped me through some very emotional times, both then, and even to this very day. It wasn’t uncommon for me to choke back tears while listening to No Need To Argue and I also find myself doing the same today as I give these albums another spin. Partly for the sadness of losing a gifted musician far too soon, but also partly a reminder of everything this music helped me with. Truly the soundtrack of my teens and a constant refuge in other times of need since.

In memoriam, I thought I would compile a list of The Cranberries tracks that had the most impact on me:

#20 Twenty One (No Need To Argue, 1994) – a soothing, soulful track that ends with Dolores’ signature vocals. Always a favourite to sing along to when no one was around.

#19 Not Sorry (Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?, 1993) – an exercise in defiance, something that has always been a personal struggle. Not apologising for walking away from a deceitful person is something we could all benefit from.

#18 Still Can’t… (Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?, 1993) – an upbeat track that hides a more sinister narrative. “Still can’t recognise the way I feel, nothing you said to me was real”. Sadly an occurrence that still happens.

#17 When You’re Gone (To The Faithful Departed, 1996) – naturally, a death-themed album was never going to be easy listening. While this album did not hold up to the incredibly lofty expectations set from the first two, some tracks still had profound effects, such as this one. “I’ll miss you when you’re gone, and it’s time to carry on”. An appropriate song to remember those that have left us.

#16 Ode To My Family (No Need To Argue, 1994) – the opening track of the album that packed a vocal punch. I never could quite understand if this was a tribute to family, or the opposite. “Do you see me? Does anyone care?” contrasted with “My mother, my mother, she’d hold me, when I was out there”. Probably a very accurate reflection of family issues while growing up and trying to find your place.

#15 I Will Always (Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?, 1993) – another soothing, soulful track that tells of devotion and letting go. “I will always go beside you”.

#14 Zombie (No Need To Argue, 1994) – I’m possibly being really unfair putting this here. Zombie was the song that put The Cranberries on the global scale and contains incredibly poignant, and sadly still too real lyrics. Music has long been used to voice opposition, political or otherwise. This is no exception and while I thoroughly love this song, all the songs below had more of an impact on me, but I do wonder if the message of this song will still be so relevant in another 24 years?

#13 Put Me Down (Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?, 1993) – as someone that has always struggled with compliments and confidence, this song was so raw. A haunting chorus complementing relatable lyrics. A very powerful way to end an album.

#12 I Can’t Be With You (No Need To Argue, 1994) – “It’s bad and it’s sad, because I can’t be with you”. For all of the crushes and ones that got away, intentional or not, this continues to resonate.

#11 Pretty (Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?, 1993) – how two minutes and 16 seconds of music can sum up so many emotions. “You’re so pretty the way you are, and you have no reason to be so insolent to me”.

#10 Salvation (To The Faithful Departed, 1996) – probably one of The Cranberries‘ most “upbeat” songs, although it details the ongoing scourge of drug addiction. “To all the kids with heroin lines, don’t do it, it’s not what it seems”. From an album about death, it has always been a standout.

#9 The Icicle Melts (No Need To Argue, 1994) – hidden in the middle of the album is this stunning example of Dolores’ powerful vocals, mixed with tragically relevant lyrics of conflict and war. “There’s a place for the baby that died, and there’s a time for the mother who cried. She will hold him in her arms sometime, cos nine months is too long…”

#8 Linger (Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?, 1993) – strings beautifully composed in the background with lyrics to match: “I’m in so deep. You know I’m such a fool for you. You got me wrapped around your finger, do you have to let it linger?” I can’t say the number of times I’ve leaned on this one.

#7 How (Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?, 1993) – Dolores’ distinctive warble is all over this one, as is the usual meaningful words: “How? You said you’d never leave me alone”. Plenty of great bass guitar in this track just rounds out its edginess.

#6 Dreaming My Dreams (No Need To Argue, 1994) – an acoustic masterwork that has brought tears to my eyes countless times, including today as I listen with a heavy heart. “I’ll be dreaming my dreams with you. And there is no other place, that I’d lay down my face, I’ll be dreaming my dreams with you” – a lyric I’ve always wanted to sing to someone one day.

#5 Empty (No Need To Argue, 1994) – another masterwork accompanied by an utterly moving piano and string melody. This track always seemed to annoy my dad the most, where he’d always threaten to snap the CD if I didn’t turn it off (thankfully can’t do that with online streaming these days). I think this is possibly the best example of the power of Dolores’ voice, and as polarising as it may be, this song surely left me feeling empty after every listen. “My identity, has it been taken? Is my heart breaking? On me, oh my plans, fell through my hands. On me, all my dreams, it suddenly seems…empty”.

#4 No Need To Argue (No Need To Argue, 1994) – the title track and deservedly so. A resounding organ introduces the song, and continues throughout. “I knew, I’d lose you. You’ll always be, special to me. And I remember all the things we once shared, watching TV movies on the living room arm chair. But they say it’ll work out fine, was it all a waste of time? Cos I knew, I knew, I’d lose you. You’ll always be, special to me”. Indeed, a very special song.

#3 Ridiculous Thoughts (No Need To Argue, 1994) – “you’re going to have to hold on! Hold on! Hold on to me!” The bellowing brings further power to the line “I cried so hard, the ridiculous thoughts, oh”. Nothing like a constantly anxious mind to over-analyse every situation, over and over again to wear you out. This track seems to embody that perfectly.

#2 Daffodil Lament (No Need To Argue, 1994) – possibly a favourite for most fans of The Cranberries, and with every possible reason. It’s one of those rare, six-minute epic journeys that so few songs manage to transcend. It’s almost three songs in one – we start with a melodic relaxation, then Dolores kicks into overdrive with solid and dramatic music – “I can’t sleep, HERE!” It returns to a quiet intermission, flips into a more positive note – “…and the daffodils look lovely today, look lovely, look lovely”. And then one last haunting chant to round it out, complete with Dolores’ distinctive tones.

#1 Dreams (Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?, 1993) – the song that started it all for me, and continues to be my standout. “Oh, my life, is changing every day. In every possible way. Oh, my dreams, it’s never quite as it seems. I know I’ve felt like this before, but now I’m feeling it even more, because it came from you”. Love, letting love in, being able to accept yourself, following dreams – it’s all in here and I knew from the first listen this would be a song I’d listen to for years. 25 years on, it still reminds me to dream my dreams and make them a reality. “You’re a dream to me”.

While speculation is unfortunately focussing on Dolores’ mental health battle over the last four or so years, the current information from London police is that nothing suspicious was found and the case has been referred to the coroner to determine the cause of death. I won’t add to the speculation, but I can only pass on my sincerest condolences to all of Dolores’ nearest and dearest. To Dolores herself, I can only feel eternally thankful to have had the privilege to listen to her music and know that it will live on with me, and millions of others, for a long time to come.

Vale Dolores O’Riordan. The daffodils don’t look so lovely today…

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Dolores O’Riordan (AP: Bruno Bebert, file)

A Clinical Lesson – Part III

One year of my nursing journey has somehow already passed, and unsurprisingly, the last three weeks have been the most significant thus far. My first clinical placement experience was an important milestone – I needed to test my strengths and weaknesses and bring all of the knowledge taken in throughout the year into the real world. Just how real is where the experience became a critical one.

There were many moments over the three weeks that will remain in my mind as I reflect on my interactions, but three moments in particular had what I feel will be a lasting impact. As in all accounts of a medical and personal nature, no real names are used in these stories that follow.

PART III

On the Thursday of the second week, we were doing a late shift. There was typically less to do on these later shifts as the only meal was dinner and most of the residents settled after this, either watching TV in one of the lounges or staying in their rooms. After helping with dinner, I saw a young boy and his father sitting beside one of the residents. The young boy was playing with three balloons and having a wonderful time, so I decided to go join in. He was close to two-years-old but he already knew the different colours of the balloons and each time I’d hide one behind my back, he’d know which colour it was. I was so impressed and his father seemed pretty happy about it too.

This was when I met his grandmother, who I later learned was of sound mind and full mental capacity, but had a failing body courtesy of Parkinson’s Disease. I didn’t know this at the time, and I certainly didn’t know that this woman would leave a very lasting impact on me.

The next morning, I was there to help with breakfast and lunch. As I approached the dining area before lunch, I saw three people sitting beside the grandmother and overheard them: “What do you mean a male nurse? Huh?” Her daughter (as I later discovered) was trying to make out what her mother was saying, as the Parkinson’s had now taken hold of her throat muscles, making her speech very difficult to hear for us, and making it very tiresome for her to even muster up a few words. So I walked up to them and introduced myself, to which the daughter smiled and told me how much the grandmother appreciated me playing with her grandson the night before, and apparently she’d never mentioned any of the staff before, but she was very happy with what I had done. I didn’t even realise the grandmother was aware of what I was doing that night! This is when it occurred to me just how cruel Parkinson’s is. To be of sound mind, but not able to express it must be incredibly frustrating (to say the least). I won’t attempt to suggest one disease is favourable over another, but at least with dementia, you don’t know that you’ve forgotten things – Parkinson’s strips you of your most basic abilities and you know it’s happening.

Once I got talking with the family, I discovered that this grandmother had the same name as one of my grandmothers (not a common name), so I started to feel a connection. I made an effort to always be there to feed her from this point, and most times, we wouldn’t say much, as I didn’t want to make her have to struggle to talk, but we’d glance at each other and smile (as much as she could anyway), and I’d just occasionally talk about random things.

After a few days, I told her that she had the same name as my Nonna, but my Nonna had passed away many years ago. Through her strained tone, she asked:

“How old?”

“66”, I replied.

“Too young”, she whispered while shaking her head. Yes, far too young. But then, as she stared straight at me, the moment I’ll never forget:

“I want to pass in my bed”.

I couldn’t make out what she was saying, there was a lot of noise in the dining area this day. I asked her to repeat it as I leaned forward to have my ear right in front of her mouth, and each time, I struggled to put the words together as much as she struggled to get them out. I felt so guilty that I was making her repeat these words, but I just couldn’t piece together what she was saying at that time. It only occurred to me later what she had said – her daughter had told me that her Mum had mentioned numerous times that she wants to die. The daughter wasn’t surprised, but she also knew there was nothing she could do. Victoria has just passed voluntary euthanasia laws, but they don’t take effect until June 2019. We discussed this, and she wished this was an option for her Mum, but the sad reality was, that the only thing her Mum could do was not eat much and let nature take its course. She was apparently refusing food most days and had recently lost a lot of weight. Her daughter knows what she’s trying to do, but what are you supposed to say to someone who tells you they want to die? She really has no quality of life and is bound to her bed and chair all day. All of her food has to be cut into very small pieces and all liquids need thickener added to them to stop her from choking. She clearly doesn’t like the taste of the thickener either, as she would always wince as I offered her a drink (with a straw, as this was the only way she could get a drink down). Who are we to say that her wish shouldn’t be granted?

Over the last few days of placement, I’d always seek her out and speak the very few Italian words I knew to her. I wanted her to feel seen, and to feel like she actually still had something to live for, even though I knew she was ready to go. And on the final day, just after I had finished feeding her lunch, with the little strength she had, she took hold of my hand, looked me in the eyes and simply said: “I’m very happy. You make me very happy”. I was speechless, yet so incredibly humbled at the same time. I wasn’t doing any of this for any other reason than to make her happy, and when she said those words, I knew this is my true calling in life. No other work I have ever done has given me this feeling and it’s quite difficult to put into words, but after she said this, I just smiled (trying not to break down into tears) and I said how happy I was that she was happy, and that it was an absolute pleasure to spend time with her. I thanked her for allowing me to care for her and then gently released my hand from hers and walked away. I can still picture this entire scene in my mind so clearly and I know this is going to stay with me for as long as my mind is willing and able.

While this placement presented many confronting situations, it also offered many highlights and uplifting moments. I have detailed some of the more challenging aspects but it just motivates me to continue learning and to look forward to my next clinical placement, which is less than two months away in a rural hospital. As there is in life, there will undoubtedly be more challenges to reflect on.

A Clinical Lesson – Part I

One year of my nursing journey has somehow already passed, and unsurprisingly, the last three weeks have been the most significant thus far. My first clinical placement experience was an important milestone – I needed to test my strengths and weaknesses and bring all of the knowledge taken in throughout the year into the real world. Just how real it was is where the experience became a critical one.

There were many moments over the three weeks that will remain in my mind as I reflect on my interactions, but three moments in particular had what I feel will be a lasting impact. As in all accounts of a medical and personal nature, no real names are used in these stories that follow.

PART I

In the days leading up to the start of my clinical placement, I was thinking about the challenges that lay ahead. One challenge that I knew I would be tested on was my ability to separate the emotional attachment from the task of caring for a person in need. Little did I know that this test would present itself in the very first week.

We were each assigned one resident to assist, and it would be a “simple” resident for now – one that did not require a high level of care with their daily activities (or ADLs, Activities of Daily Living, as we like to call it). I was assigned a friendly but reserved gentleman, who just one month on from his 94th birthday, had found himself admitted into residential care due to a complication with his eye sight after suffering a three-month pneumonia battle. He was otherwise mobile and independent, even though he used a walking aide. I only needed to assist with the trickier parts of a shower, and keeping an eye on a sore he had on one of his toes. Otherwise, I found my main assistance to him was just being there for a chat and we had a rapport right from the start. He was still processing the fact that he was now a resident in a care facility, something that was both unexpected and a little uncomfortable for him. It was the little things that were making a big difference to his transition, such as the lack of honey that was available at breakfast time for his toast (and of course, I set about trying to stash some honey away for him once I learned this).

After the second day, he said we made a good team, and that gave me a sense of satisfaction I’ve rarely felt in any work I’ve ever done. I was genuinely enjoying our chats – learning about his history as a merchant shipper, and the many fascinating places he had sailed to. I learned about his wife, who had passed two years earlier, and of the way he would spend his time down at the local stores with his neighbours. He told me of his three daughters and how proud he was of them. I had the pleasure of meeting one of them and I could see why he was a proud father.

Then, on the Friday, I knocked on his door as I always did and entered his room. I saw him sitting on his bed, quietly staring out the window, with all of his belongings packed beside him. This startled me, and it was almost like he read my reaction, as he started to tell me what was happening before I even had a chance to ask. He was being transferred to another facility, as this was only supposed to be for respite care. He wasn’t sure when he was leaving, but I said I would be there to say a proper goodbye. I thanked him for the opportunity to assist him and I told him how much I enjoyed our very brief time together learning about his story. I had some other tasks to attend to and then went back to his room about an hour later.

Clinical 1

The room was empty. My heart sank. My throat felt heavy. He was gone and I wasn’t there like I said I would be. I instantly felt like I had let him down and I was so disappointed in myself.

I went back to our meeting room that we used to debrief and told my educator and fellow placement buddies what had just happened. My educator had a look on her face, almost like she knew this was coming. I had mentioned to her at the start of placement that I thought I might struggle with the emotional side of things and here we were – on day five, already facing this test. But they rallied around me (something that I hope will continue to happen throughout my nursing journey) and reminded me of the reality of the situation – yes, I said I would be there to say goodbye, but this isn’t always possible. I was there when he needed me throughout the week, and then he needed to move to his next phase. I suggested that I would go visit him in his new facility, to say a proper goodbye, but my educator stepped up again: “Are you doing this for him, or are you doing this for you?” It was a powerful question, one that instantly highlighted to me that I had become too emotionally attached to the first resident I interacted with and proved this would be a real challenge for me to work on. People in need will come and go and I won’t always be there to say goodbye – things will rarely be that perfect or organised. There is a fine line between being the empathetic, caring nurse and the nurse that doesn’t protect themselves emotionally. I was already too close to this line and I had to back away.

Parts II and III to follow.

Let’s Talk About Death

Let's talk about death blog pic

You’ve probably heard the saying: there’s two things in life you can’t avoid — death and taxes. For two things that can’t be avoided, we don’t seem to like talking about them. While it’s understandable that not too many people enjoy talking about taxes, I have been wondering why there’s a reluctance to talk about death. And it was in an unexpected arena recently where I was challenged to question my own reluctance to talk about death, but to also question my previous handling of it in a personal sense.

One of my teachers at university has a wonderful habit of starting each editing class with a general knowledge session (as editors, we need to have sound general knowledge so we are able to pick up on anomalies in manuscripts and check for factual inconsistencies). A few weeks ago, she asked that we research some terms that she had written on the whiteboard. There was a general theme in the terms — that of death and dying, mostly with a World War I/II reference. This laid the foundation for the extended discussion on death and dying that she so bravely approached in our most recent class.

Both of her parents succumbed to cancer in the last ten years. Some say time heals all wounds, but I question the validity of this when a close family member, or friend, or even family pet passes on. It might get easier to deal with over time, but the pain of losing someone close never goes away. Each time you’re reminded of this person (or pet), you might find a tear forming in your eye, or a choking feeling developing in your throat. My teacher did exactly this as she began to talk of the final weeks of her father’s life. Recounting how she and her sister sat by his side, trying to feed him when he didn’t want to eat (or couldn’t), when he didn’t want to drink, when he waited for the palliative care nurse to show up before he would relieve himself so that he didn’t have to make his daughters clean up after him. She choked back tears as she spoke of these things — obviously time has not healed the wounds of having to witness her father slowly waste away, but this did not stop her standing up in front of 20 or so postgrad students and expose the raw truth of what it is to embrace a situation that is clearly not in your control. I was so amazed at her strength — she has previously mentioned to me that she is an introvert and even with ten years’ worth of teaching experience, the fear of standing up in front of a class and teaching has not subsided; yet, here she was, opening up her rawest emotions in front of us, presumably to show us why death is to be embraced, rather than avoided.

It struck me instantly of how differently I handled my grandfather’s passing some years ago. While the circumstances were somewhat different to my teacher’s experience — my grandfather was a shell of himself after suffering through dementia, diabetes which affected his sight and a stroke which affected his independence — it still made me question my handling of the situation and why I acted in this way. As you watch someone close to you slowly fade away, you want nothing more than for them to jump out of bed and resume their previous activities. You know it’s not going to happen and that is part of the sadness. I visited my grandfather in the nursing home — where he was restrained to his bed to protect both himself and the nursing home staff. The dementia and stroke had made him violent; he was lashing out at the confusing place he had found himself in. He couldn’t remember me anymore and he would cry every now and again. I couldn’t see this — my once-strong, independent grandfather, who got on a boat from Italy all those years ago, by himself, to start a new life here in Melbourne and here he now was, breathing but not living. So, I stopped going to visit. I couldn’t handle this experience any longer. I regret that now.

As my teacher spoke of the beauty that she saw in caring for her father as he went through his final days, I thought about the way I shied away from it. I obviously wasn’t ready to deal with such a situation but I now wonder if my grandfather noticed that I (and maybe some others) stopped going to visit and whether he knew why, even though it was likely he wouldn’t remember any of that. I’m not even sure that the next time I’m faced with this situation that I’ll act any differently. I hope I will, but it’s one of those times in life that there’s surely no script for. How can you possibly prepare yourself for watching a loved one die? One thing is for sure though — we can’t be scared to talk about it and we can’t keep hoping that it won’t happen to us. The sad reality is that it will. I’m not suggesting it need be a daily topic of conversation, but it needs to be discussed at some point. Maybe talking about death before you’re faced with it makes you more ready to deal with it? I don’t know, but the awkwardness of not talking about it won’t make you ready to deal with it either.

This extends to helping friends deal with loss too. I’ve had a few friends recently experience the loss of a loved one and I’m always unsure what I should say or what I should do. Again, I don’t think there’s a script for this, but ignoring the situation doesn’t help anyone. While I’m conscious of not sounding generic when sending messages of hope or support, I need to remind myself that this situation isn’t about me, and that any act of compassion or support is probably greatly appreciated. My teacher spoke of taking food to the person looking after their loved one in their final days — even pet food if they have pets. They still need to eat and probably aren’t thinking of their next trip to the supermarket. Any little act of kindness surely goes a long way to that person who is obviously so preoccupied with the care of their loved one.

Feel free to continue to avoid talking about taxes, but let’s talk about death. Let’s try to help each other deal with an unavoidable grief and sense of helplessness, while hopefully reassuring the person who is passing that their final days will be as fulfilling as their strong days. Try to cherish each day that they are still here, don’t shy away from it. You won’t get a second go at it.