Tag Archive | death

Saying Goodbye

photo courtesy of www.pixabay.com & Unsplash

photo courtesy of http://www.pixabay.com & Unsplash

None of us wants to address death. Just the thoughts of losing a loved one will move us to tears long before the event. Still death is inevitable for us all. So the question arises, how do we face this issue, remain strong, and allow our aging parent the dignity they deserve?

It’s a tedious balancing act. As much as we’d like to assume every family is issue free, they aren’t. Many families face on-going sibling rivalry, family disagreement, and long histories of conflict. Add in the reality of an aging parent facing death, and the frustration only escalates.

Sadly enough, family conflict will sometimes outweigh the feelings and needs of the loved one. The resolution of family disagreement may never happen, but it can be laid to the side for a short time.

According to studies done from the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry, terminal patients recognize end-of-life symptoms long before their passing. Though they have no idea when their passing will occur, many will begin to make preparations such as:

* Will preparations
* Family discussion on funeral arrangements
* Distribution of meaningful belongings
* Final conversations
* Reminiscing

It’s not uncommon to have grandma begin to distribute belongings she holds dear to unsuspecting recipients. It’s important to remember, that though an ugly vase grandma kept on her dining room table may have no meaning to you, there is a special memory tied to it for grandma. She may never share the memory, or she may not know how to express the meaning, but to her, the vase you consider ugly . . . is beautiful and it means enough to her that she longs to share it with a loved one. When grandma offers the vase, accept it with love and joy. Show her the gratitude she deserves by allowing her the happiness of accepting it graciously. It’s not about you – it’s about her. If she is able, you may be surprised by the meaning and even more surprised if the object you’ve thought so ugly in the past, acquires a new meaning you now enjoy.

photo courtesy www.pixabay.com & geralt

photo courtesy http://www.pixabay.com & geralt

Listen to their stories even if you’ve heard them a hundred times. Listen closely for the details that may have passed over unwilling ears earlier. This is the legacy of your loved one. It’s history. It’s memories that, once the loved one is gone, you will cherish.

Find forgiveness. Perhaps you’ve been at odds with your loved one. For lack of better words, death is final. It’s irreversible. It was once said, “Regret is a horrible bedfellow.” The truth in this is overwhelming. There is no disagreement worth a lifetime of regret. Take time, if for no one other than yourself and your own future, to make amends. For example: a mother lost her estranged daughter in a car accident, her last memory was an argument three years earlier. As the daughter was laid to rest, all her mother could remember was three valuable years lost over bitter words.

The same thought process should be applied to learning to say I love you. Perhaps it’s not commonplace for these emotions to be exhibited, but when you’re approached by an aging parent who declares their love for you, return the courtesy. Your acceptance and gentle response, even if it is not your nature, will give peace and closure to a loved one facing their final months, weeks, or days. Once again, it’s not about you (though you will benefit), it’s about the loved one.

Family discussion over finances, wills, and personal effects can become heated and unfortunately no family, whether they are wealthy or poor, are immune to greed. If your family disagrees over possessions, make the effort to suspend those while your loved one works through the acceptance of their future. Despite the argument, allow your loved one to see a calm and peace for a short time. It’s a kind act in their behalf. The life of the loved one is far greater than any possession.

What if the tables are turned and your loved one is the center of conflict? The greatest advice is apply the golden rule – treat others the way you would want to be treated. You are always the winner when you choose the high road, even when your loved one may be condescending or difficult. Keep in mind that at times the anger and frustration an aging parent experiences may be fueled by dementia or Alzheimer’s. It may be spurred by disappointment in their own lives or things they have no control over – even the realization some actions of the past are unchangeable.

Ultimately we, as children, cannot repair the past of our loved ones but despite their obstinacy we can adopt an attitude of forgiveness – does it make the actions of those loved ones right? No. But in your own life, you will have peace for having “loved them anyway.”

Our immortality affects us each one in a deeply personal place. We’re forced to not only look ahead to the end but to look back over what has been. When your aging parent begins to make end-of-life preparations, spend quality time with them. Tell them you love them. Walk the path with them. Seek out their personal spiritual situation and guide them appropriately.

photo courtesy www.pixaby.com &  Gaertringen

photo courtesy http://www.pixaby.com & Gaertringen

Saying goodbye is never easy but we can choose gentleness, loving ways, and understanding. The rewards for both the aging parent and for you, are immeasurable. Years after the loss, you can look back and say, “I’m glad I did,” instead of “I wish I had.”

How Do You Mend a Broken Heart?

Photo courtesy of Microsoft.com free photo gallery

Abigail folded her hands and bowed her head. “Thank you Jesus for our food. In Jesus Name. Amen.”

“That was sweet, Honey. Wasn’t it dad?” Marilyn patted her aging dad on the knee. “Dad. Didn’t Abby do a great job with the prayer?”

Her father stared at the table. He unfolded the plaid cloth napkin and placed it in his lap. Marilyn’s teenage son gently nudged his grandfather’s arm. “Green beans?” Still no response.

Marilyn spooned a small helping onto her dad’s plate. “They’re cooked just like Mom made them. Big chunk of pork and simmered until tender. Salt. You’ll love them Dad.”

The tension was thick. The moment uncomfortable. And Marilyn couldn’t ease the anxiety. Her had mother passed away a few months earlier and she’d moved her dad into her home so she could care for him.

Marilyn’s dad poked at the green beans then scooted his chair away from the table and excused himself. He pressed his palm against his chest, and groaned. “My chest hurts.”

Charles and Eleanor Morrison had spent 62 years of their lives together. Eleanor never left Charles’ side even after two strokes nearly took his life. She’d help him walk, literally helped him place food in his mouth when his face was numbed from the stroke. Eleanor was not only his lifelong soul mate, she was his caregiver – the joy of his life. So when Charles woke early that Saturday morning and Eleanor didn’t roll over to kiss his forehead, life as Charles knew it . . . ended.

Marilyn and her sister made numerous efforts to help “snap” their dad out of his sadness but nothing seemed to work. A trip to the doctor gained the diagnosis of “Broken Heart Syndrome.” Marilyn laughed. “You’re not serious?” But indeed, the doctor was very serious.

Broken Heart Syndrome is in fact a very real diagnosis with patients experiencing:
*shortness of breath
*chest pain
*irregular heartbeats
*an overall general weakness
*appetite loss
*weight loss
*depression and fatigue

According to Mayo Clinic the exact cause of Broken Heart Syndrome is unclear but when the body experiences a devastating event or trauma a surge of “stress” hormones are released (i.e. adrenaline) striking the heart and causing the symptoms to present.

Studies on the elderly show Broken Heart Syndrome is not uncommon for the surviving spouse after the loss of their mate. Stress, loneliness, depression all play into the effects. Insurance companies who pay life insurance benefits followed the mortality rate of widowers/widows to discover a higher mortality rate in the second spouse within in six months of the passing of the first. They also noted that women who suffer the loss of their husband are at higher risk than men to experience Broken Heart Syndrome, though men do also experience it as well and in a more devastating way.

What Do Families Do?
At best, the loss of an aging parent is difficult for children but the surviving spouse suffers far worse. It’s important for families to realize they cannot set a time frame for grief. Where their lives move ahead with the busyness of their immediate families, the lives of the aging parent becomes far more emptier. Children are grown, retirement has taken away the daily grind of work, and the glaring fact of their own immortality looms as a reality.

There is no real “best” way to ease the symptoms of Broken Heart Syndrome but families can follow these suggestions as a guideline:

*If the grieving process is remains severe after 60 days, contact the physician for a health exam.
*Plug into a grief/loss support group or become involved in an active seniors group through local churches or the Department of Aging.
*Encourage walking (exercise strengthens the body and allows the mind to process thoughts without interruption).
*Do not force the issue, rather work with the physician and even grief counselor to help bring a parent into acceptance.
*If the symptoms listed above are continual . . . seek medical attention (Broken Heart Syndrome mimics a heart attack. It’s always better safe than sorry.)
*Encourage family members to renew relationships with the parent. Calls, cards, communication is vital.
*Grieve WITH your parent. Sharing your own grief allows the parent to grieve as well. But be wise in how, what and when you share. It helps when a parent realizes they are not alone in vortex of void.
*Don’t try to replace the loss but encourage new adventures. Plant the seeds of activity so they can sprout.
*Be sensitive to the emptiness your parent feels and love them even when it’s hard.

Families often think a “quick fix” is moving the surviving parent into the home of a child. It’s important to remember that, unless it’s medically necessary, sudden uprooting may not be in the best interest of your loved one. When a loved one has spent over half of their life with a spouse, it’s enough to suddenly be without them, but uprooting the surviving parent without allowing them adequate time to grieve may be equally as detrimental.

Allow time for the family to come together and sort slowly through the memories that hang in the closet or are stacked in a cabinet. Physical possessions are something surviving parents can touch, feel, and identify with. Seeking to empty out personal belongings to quickly may be an effective coping mechanism for children, but not for the surviving parent. Be compassionate and understanding while walking your loved one through the loss.

The loss of a spouse is a traumatic thing. Seek out patient and effective ways to help your parent grieve and move past so a new beginning appears hopeful and not debilitating.

Time is the ultimate healer and for some that time is longer rather than shorter. Finding patience, offering hope, and praying together as a family, brings comfort. Nothing surpasses love. When families come together to support one another the process is bearable.

For more information on Broken Heart Syndrome visit The American Heart Association and their article on Broken Heart Syndrome or ( www.heart.org ).

The Natural Progression of Life

elderly-handsDeath is a hard subject, one most individuals prefer to ignore. The popular idea of, if it’s not thought about then it’s not a reality, hides beneath the surface. Yet, death is very much a reality. No one has a magic “get out of jail free” card on this one. Death will, at some point, touch every individual.

The thoughts of giving up a loved one are sometimes more than we can bear. Life without that person is unimaginable.

In an article by Craig Bowron, MD, published in the Washington Post (February 17, 2012), Dr. Bowron brought to light many thought provoking ideas every family should consider when it comes to the natural progression of life for their aging parents. Some of his ideas are heartbreakingly shocking and they deal not with the aging, parent, but with the families and their duty to care effectively for them.

Dr. Bowron noted how and why life expectancy has risen since the 1900’s. Improved medical advances certainly played a role, but the simple development of improved diets, cleanliness, and urbanization decreased infant and maternal mortality by thousands. Still the primary cord that rings true in our present day world is the lack of family involvement until death’s knock suddenly arrives.

Simply translated, in the early years of our nation, as age stole away the elderly’s abilities, they came to live under the same roof as their children. Families as a whole, shared the sometimes lengthy and harsh suffering their aging parents experienced, changing their view on death. Death, in these times came as a welcomed visitor, allowing their parents to slip away with dignity and in an environment they felt loved and cared for. It was, by all due rights, normal.

Today’s world separates families. Children move across country in search of a better life, leaving aging parents behind. Though they may keep in touch, distance does what it does best – it takes away the connection.

For many, the care of an aging parent is not intentionally ignored, rather it’s skewed by the distance. The inability to be actively involved in the day to day routine of a senior’s health issues has vanished. As a parent’s health deteriorates, children no longer experience the progression of illness or disease. Instead, they assume all health issues are fixable. Medical technology is amazing. There are things that can be done to stop this process. Care is tossed into the hands of medical professionals and exceptional results are expected. Dr. Bowron goes on to state, “…our culture has come to view death as a medical failure rather than life’s natural conclusion.”

Take this story as an example. A seventy-one year-old man, strong in appearance, apparently healthy is stricken suddenly with stage 4 lung cancer. His children have always been actively involved in their parent’s lives. As a close knit family it was natural for the children to step alongside their mother in the decisions and care of their father.

The prognosis from doctors was bleak. Radiation would be a temporary solution but ultimately his comfort should take precedence.heat

Entertaining the idea of death was not an option for this family however, after only one month into his treatment they realized the desires they longed for, were their own.

Their father willingly submitted to the care the family suggested. Though his thoughts were that compliance would make this season easier on his family, when they asked him to consider traveling to a hospital that specialized in this type of cancer, he said no. They suddenly understood his treatment was not about them, it was about what was best spiritually, mentally, and physically for their father.

Studies have shown the effects of prayer on those who suffer extreme illness. Though every patient may not recover, they have a lower stress level, peace, and personal acceptance level for their treatment and prognosis. As Christians we understand the power behind prayer and we understand the will of God may not be our will. God knows best in every life. And here in lies the truth in caring for aging parents who are ill. Trust in the natural progression of life and the will of God.

When we stand toe-to-toe with death, it forces us to reach for preservation. The ultimate desire to extend the life of an individual only to cause them more pain and suffering pushes us into a catch twenty-two – the love we have for our aging parents verses the  natural progression of life.

There are exceptions to every rule. Families who intentionally do not participate in the care of their elders then demand medical interventions out of an unrecognized guilt. The attitude of “I’ll fix this,” allows them to take control and paint the picture of love and care that serves as personal satisfaction rather than gentle and loving care. When death claims the life they’ve stepped into repair, they find their comfort in blaming the medical profession. They could have done more.

The hard truth is, death is the natural progression of life and though we should make every effort to use medicine as a means of healing, there is something to be said for the quality of life. Acceptance of the progression.

The family of this elderly man, sought out their father’s desires. They cared for him, kept him comfortable, and allowed him the dignity he requested. He accepted treatments but when he drew the line, the family stepped into the role of support. Though his loss was devastating, they rested in the peace of their father’s wishes. Their faith turned to a deeper trust that God’s will was to take precedence over their own desires.

Four months later, the man passed as his family kissed him and offered him permission to leave them. And there was peace.

This article, by no means, advocates that families opt out of medical care or lifesaving measures. These things are truly personal preference. Modern medicine is a blessing and for many, the lifesaving advances are miracles. However, what this article does advocate, is the awareness, acceptance, and compassion for caring for an aging parent , and the importance of understanding their end-of-life desires. It advocates personal and family involvement, long before illness strikes building deep, strong bonds that live on after the loss of a parent.

???????????Care for your parents. Remember, even in the busyness of your life, the priority of family stands greater than anything else. Discuss end-of-life decisions with aging parents to know their wishes. The conversations are hard at best. It may be extensive measures are the choices of the parent. And then, it may not be. Either way, there is peace in knowledge. Knowledge allows a family to prepare and then in the throngs of hardship and loss, accept the progression.

Grief and the Aging

By Cindy Sproles

Photo Courtesy www.freedigitalphoto.net By Arvind Balaraman

Photo Courtesy
http://www.freedigitalphoto.net
By Arvind Balaraman

Grief. It took his breath and pressed against his chest.

Thomas stood at the side of his wife, Marie. He grasped her hand and held tight. She opened her eyes and a tear seeped from the corner. Marie took in a deep breath, then relaxed. She was gone.

Thomas and his two daughters were prepared, or as prepared as they could be. After sixty-five years of marriage – a lifetime together, he felt Marie’s fingers loosen from his. They stood quiet, staring at Marie, unable to speak. The nurse rushed into the room and immediately began to search for a pulse. She blew on the stethoscope to warm it and placed it gently against Marie’s chest.  Within seconds, she glanced over her glasses and nodded.

What now, were the only words Thomas could muster together. “What now?”

Marie’s daughters stood firm by their dad. Together they walked him through the funeral arrangements and burial, but when the day arrived to leave their dad alone at home, both daughters were distraught. Though Thomas had managed well through the formalities of Marie’s death, the girls knew that first night he was to be completely alone grief, could overwhelm him and take his life as well.

Death is hard, regardless of the circumstance. It’s a little easier to accept when a loved one has lived a long life like Marie, but even at best, it’s difficult. Statics from Harvard sociologists say men are 22% more likely to die after the death of a spouse, compared to 17% for women.  “Women seemed to be wired differently when it comes to coping with loss. It’s part of their nurturing nature,” according to sociologists.

Families find it sadly true, that after the loss of one parent, the second will pass away within months. According to Harvard’s sociologist, this is not uncommon. Aptly named, widowhood effect, physicians find true physical changes happen in the surviving spouse.  Weakness leading to falls. Stress leading to heart issues, lack of appetite and failure to remain properly hydrated, all translate to a decline in the surviving spouse that often leads to death as well.

The question then becomes, how do families help prevent the widowhood effect?  First and foremost, families should encourage and allow the remaining spouse an opportunity to grieve naturally and fully.  This process is different for every individual. Spend time talking about the loved one.  Discuss the circumstances around their loss, reminisce joyful moments, and encourage healthy tears. Often, families assume a time frame of grieving on the surviving parent, expecting them to pass through the phases of acceptance, and then move forward.  Sadness, loneliness, broken-heartedness is normal. Should this time exceed a reasonable amount of time, talk with your parent’s physician to decide, according to that parent’s health and personality, how to move forward. Don’t rush to clean out personal effects as the process of sorting through these things tends to be very therapeutic.

Provide nutritious meals and stress the importance of good exercise and proper rest.

Finally, spend quality time with your remaining parent. Involve them in family activities, encourage them to reconnect with friends, even become involved in community activities. Helping parents re-enter their normal life’s activities is important.  There is nothing stronger than the bond of a life-long marriage. The stability found inside these relationships is a life force.  When it’s suddenly taken apart, adjustment is difficult.

Take time to discuss end-of-life decisions as a family. Learning the desires of your parents will help you guide them through a difficult season.

Facing the Fear with Aging Parents

Cindy Sproles

Fear is debilitating and it comes in various forms. As children, we depended on the strength and comfort of our parents when we were afraid. It was their tender words, soft voice and tight hugs that brought us peace.

How does fear attack our aging parents and how can we help relieve the anxiety?

Fear Attacks the Senses

Fear first attacks that which we take for granted. It begins in the simplicity of the five senses. Taste, smell, hearing, touch, and sight.

Perhaps your parents do not hear as well as they once did. Where once our loved ones did not fear someone approaching them from behind, they now cannot hear the approach of others and they’re easily startled. Their sight may be failing and the fear of falling or losing the recognition of those they love comes into play. A hug that was once gentle and short may become clingy and long. The need to hold your hand or arm may become apparent.

It’s important for family members to realize these simple changes and tenderly address these fears with their aging parents, keeping in mind the fears are valid. Ask yourself the questions, how would I feel if I couldn’t hear as well, or I couldn’t see like I used to? The deterioration of the senses robs our seniors of their confidence—a confidence that made them the tower of strength we knew as children. It’s frightening when you are faced with the loss of daily living skills.

Fear Attacks Personal Independence.

The fear of losing their independence follows. It’s a difficult and trying time when our aging parents come to grips with the reality that they cannot do for themselves any longer. For the bigger part of their lives they’ve been responsible for their finances, their shopping, housekeeping and medical decisions. One senior compared the loss of his independence to being locked inside a box filling with water and being unable to tread water long enough to keep from drowning. It’s important we as children realize the value of our parents and the need for them to be as active as possible for as long as possible in their personal affairs.

Losing one’s independence often leads to the fear of loneliness, and from that, the fear of dying alone.

Learning to look for early signs of fear in your aging parents is important. Open the lines of communication early. Talk with your parents. Ask them what their wishes and desires are and then act with compassion when the time arrives to face these difficulties. Be encouraging, be available and be willing to listen. Our own well thought out responses will aid in the transition of this season of life.

Recognizing the needs of your loved ones and putting the necessary help they may need early on with caregivers will help ease the fear of the unknown. Remember the golden rule, “Treat others the way you want to be treated,” and then act on that rule.