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Q: We just learned that my mother is terminally ill. Everyone is in shock and denial. Can you help us deal with this awful news? We don’t know how to behave around her now that we know she’s dying.
A: My heart goes out to you and your family. These first days of coming to terms with the fact that we are going to lose someone precious to us are so very difficult. I hope that the following video clip (“How to be in the flow with the end of life”) will help you and all those involved in your mother’s care and well-being. It was recorded in 2011 in a radio interview that covered many topics included in my book A Beautiful Death: Facing the Future with Peace (republished in 2015 as Keeping the Promise of Love).
Q: Do you know of any other articles/info on ether induced trauma? I read Levine. I have a family member who still has trauma/phobic reactions to certain smells after going thru a similar ether induced trauma as a kid during surgery. Won’t go to dentist, etc. etc. Found your article helpful but I need more.
A: I suggest that you contact Peter Levine’s organization directly for more information and a list of somatic therapists in your area. Have you checked into Levine’s CD of his 12-step program? It’s available on Amazon.com. Personally, I like having someone guide me through these processes, but he has made his program available to individuals who prefer to work on their own.
Q: My loved one is very ill but we are still hoping for a complete cure. Is it inappropriate for me to read your book right now? We’re not really “there” yet.
A: I can appreciate your not wanting to read A Beautiful Death just yet. However, I would like to share a bit of my own experience.
When my husband, Stephen, was first diagnosed—long before we had any idea that he might not survive—we read Grace and Grit by Ken Wilber, Stephen’s favorite philosopher. It’s the story of the journey with a particularly aggressive breast cancer that Wilber and his wife, Treya, walked together in the late 1980s. It was very inspiring and gave us a lot of ideas for how we could be more fully present to our own situation.
When we found out that Stephen’s cancer was not curable, I read several hospice books that gave me extremely valuable insight into many aspects of care for chronic and terminal illness.
Like those books, A Beautiful Death is one to read before you actually need it. If and when an illness becomes advanced, my experience is that you’re so far into just dealing with the whole process that you don’t have time or energy to read about what other people did.
So, I’d like to suggest that now might actually be the perfect time for you to read my book. If nothing else, it is a love story that I’m sure you and your loved one will resonate with. The most frequent response I’m getting from readers is, “I couldn’t put it down.” And several people have commented that having this perspective already in hand is giving them more confidence in their ability to handle their own journey—whenever and however it transpires.
Q: I just found out my loved one has an advanced stage of cancer? How do I deal with my shock? And how do I deal with my loved one’s shock? We are both devastated.
A: There is a kind of numbness that accompanies the news that the somewhat abstract end of life that we knew would come eventually is now facing us as an imminent reality. These shocking experiences may provoke feelings of helplessness as we find ourselves flooded with a tidal wave of uncertainty and the grief-filled expectations of others. The mind simply cannot process the enormity of what lies ahead. The heart cannot contain the sorrow of impending loss. And so we shut down.
When Stephen and I learned that his cancer was terminal, we were stunned. We could barely speak to each other, let alone to our family and friends. The news was just too awful to voice. For nearly an hour we just sat on the love seat, holding one another, crying together, actually dozing off as a natural response to escape the news that was too much to bear.
What helped us begin to come to terms with the reality we were facing was to deal with concrete issues: What was our financial situation? What kind of health insurance did we have? Whom could we call upon for support? And most important—how did we want to “be” as a couple and as individuals throughout the journey we now faced.
Dealing with shock calls us to express great gentleness—toward ourselves as well as our loved ones. As difficult as it may be to sleep or eat, rest and good nutrition are important. We will need all of our strength in the days and weeks to come, so doing our best to nurture our bodies is vital.
Each journey is unique—particularly with regards to whom we invite into this very delicate process. Some people want and need a lot of personal support—which means releasing at least basic information to a fairly wide circle. Others, like Stephen, choose to walk their path with a high degree of privacy.
Either way is right for those who choose it. Our responsibility is to honor the choice our loved one makes, to be fully present to what is arising for them without judgment, and to recognize where our needs may differ from theirs. It is a delicate balance that Stephen and I found we could negotiate best when we were honest with each other about what and how we were feeling day to day.
My strongest recommendation is that you contact a local hospice organization. Their team approach is designed to support patients, caregivers, and family members. A good place to start is NHPCO (the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization).
The hospice we hired for my elderly mother’s end-of-life care was fantastic. They were so kind to her as she faced the difficult existential questions of life and supportive of me as I navigated the delicate balance of caregiver/advocate and daughter.
Q: When my father passed, I was sad and also very happy for him. I could see he was free of all the pains of his illnesses. My mom was shocked at the peace and joy I was feeling. Is it okay to feel so happy for him?
A: Yes, it is entirely appropriate to feel happy for your father in his release from earthly burdens while being sensitive to the grief others may be experiencing. This is especially true for the spouse of the departed. As I describe in my book, there is something profoundly different about losing your life partner from losing even the most beloved parent. Your mother may eventually arrive at a place of joy for your father, but she will need to get there in her own way. Your positive response may help her heal, but I suspect it may be more indirect as you honor her feelings about the loss.
Embracing Life’s Final Journey
Stories of how others embraced the end of life
The Power of Story to Heal
More YouTube clips about specific end-of-life topics
A Beautiful Death: Keeping the Promise of Love (the book)
Copyright © 2017 Cheryl Eckl and CherylEckl.com. All rights reserved.