Facing our own mortality is never easy. When we deal with an unexpected diagnosis of a disease that may cut our life short… we look to support and guidance from our physicians. Because of our fear of death in our society, the first thing the doctors hear is “What can I do to beat this?”
When I was a senior in high school, my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer. She was 48 years old. It was a huge surprise to all us, as my mother never smoked. My father, believing he was sparing my mother undue anguish and pain… never permitted anyone to mention the words “cancer” or “dying” in her presence. My mother played the game with us.
In his determination to protect us, we never permitted to talk about her possible death. We were never given an opportunity to cry together.
My mother received a clean bill of health on her last visit to the oncologist. She was so excited to be able to come home and share her good news with us. On the way down in the elevator, minutes after leaving the doctors office… she threw a pulmonary embolism. She died later that night.
The pain and suffering we all shared as she was going through cobalt treatments… could only be matched by the feelings of loneliness and the inability to say goodbye.
I will never forget visiting her in ICU that day. She was awake and alert. It was Christmas time, and she was there to pick me up from nursing school. The last time we spoke, she gave me a list of things she needed to finish her Christmas shopping for my siblings. I had no idea it would be the last time I saw her alive.
If there is anything that I learned about my mother’s death.. it is the recognition and decision to live life and not be afraid of death. I have always been very open about talking about death and dying and end of life issues.
We live in a society where we fear death… there is fine line between accepting the inevitable and surrendering to death. I find that many refuse to surrender. This may have more to do with their feelings of living, and not about death itself.
My mother’s death taught me that it is so important to have discussions about end of life and death and dying. Especially as death draws near. So many feel uncomfortable when the conversation turns to end of life. I have learned in my 50 years of nursing… those that take the time to talk about their feelings openly… take time to “say goodbye”… share their thoughts… and wishes,…help the surviving family members. There is less unresolved guilt and, many times, longer periods of grief. I know, because, even today, some 50 years later, I still feel as if I let my mom down.
Watch the PBS special- Being Mortal
What are Your thoughts on Death and Dying?
Are You Uncomfortable Discussing End of LIfe Issues?
Do You Have a Story to Share?