Neil and Barbara’s Difficult End-of-Life Conversation
Four weeks ago his world had been upended when his wife of 35 years, Barbara, had complained about feeling fatigued.
“I just can’t seem to find the energy to do anything anymore Neil,” She told him one night after dinner.
A few days and a couple doctor’s visit later they got the worst news they could imagine. Lymphocyte Leukemia, a life ending prognosis. From the moment they’d received the news each had handled it differently; his way was to put up a strong, stoic front while silently tormenting himself, hers was to go about her business as usual.
The string of uncontrolled thoughts occupied every waking moment of his day, “How do I do this? How do I bring up what is going on in my mind? What is going to happen to her? What is she thinking about? What is she feeling?” After four weeks of mulling these questions over he was in a space where he was able to have the conversation without losing composure.
He chose his words and his demeanor wisely, dedicating himself to the present moment, with a sense of open kindness. He wouldn’t have guessed at the time the yoga classes Barbara had suggested they take together would have help in dealing with her passing. “Today was the day,” he told himself as he got out of bed that morning.
Neil’s wife lay in a hospice bed located in the center of the living room overlooking the Boise Foothills. After pacing for a few moments outside of the room he walked in and initiated the difficult conversation.
“Barbara, Are you feeling up to going over your after-life plan today?” Neil asked, apparent discomfort washing over his face as he pursued his own emotional strength for the task. “I’d like to finish my coffee and have a little breakfast first, then we can begin that process, okay?”. “Of course” He replied. Each of them knowing and communicating their needs with relative ease.
As the hospice nurse moved her frail and diminishing body from the bed to a wheelchair, she moaned. The pain from the spreading cancer and overtaking of her body was great. Although in pain, she was also ready for the conversation to be ensued.
With a list of questions given to him by their home health nurse, he began the questioning, “How would you like your body to be handled after death?”. “I want to be cremated. Half of my ashes thrown along the Atlantic Coast of Florida, the other half along the Salmon River near Big Casino Creek in Idaho”. He nodded his head and smiled as he wrote her wishes down so as remember them with accuracy, recalling the wonderful times they’d shared at each of those locations. Questions continued such as their financial state, funeral arrangements, and notifying friends and family of the current state and progress of the disease.
After the business of death has been addressed other, more personal, questions began to arise, “What are you most worried about in leaving this earth?” “You, of course, and Macie (the cat)”, she replied. “What can I do to help? What do you want for us?”, he stated trying not to dismiss her wants and desires, trying to stay open and truly hear what she had to say. This was their practice, ask and listen deeply. “When I die, I need you to take care of Macie (the cat). Remember to leave the door open during the day so she can come and go as she pleases” “What else?” he asked. “What I want most of all is for you to find someone else to love and share your life with” Barbara said.
Saddened by this thought, his brow furrowed, but he kept her gaze. By doing this he was about to show her his presence, knowing that he would soon not be able to partake in these moments. They were few in number now.
When is the last time you discussed your needs, wants, and desires with the people in your life? Learn to do this and much more by joining us for our workshop, Creating and Maintaining Healthy Relationships, beginning this Thursday October 4th from 5:30-7:00 PM at the Flourish Foundation in Hailey.
WANT TO WORK ON THESE SKILLS IN MORE DEPTH?
JOIN CODY LEE AND CAITLIN HEGWOOD
OCTOBER 4TH, 11TH, 18TH, AND 25TH
5:30-7:00 PM IN KETCHUM
This workshop teaches skills to create healthy relationships in every context of life, whether seeking support and information to develop your relationship with your partner, family members or co-workers. There is something for everyone! We will focus on communication as a foundation for everything, mindful listening/ speaking skills, sexual communication, addressing charged issues, and developing a plan to co-create life.