The Women's Journal

End Of Life From The Senior Perspective

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pip_nc_kristin_jfm17By Kristin Stetler Donovan, Owner, Age Advantage of Newark 

It’s obvious that the contemplation of End of Life, whether our own or that of a loved one, is an incredibly difficult subject. Because it is so uncomfortable to discuss, let alone to have to face, the conversations and preparations that should happen beforehand often go unsaid and undone. Once faced with the reality of the loss of our parent or loved one, it becomes even more difficult to separate our own emotions and feelings from what’s best for them and what they’re going through. Being with someone you love at the point of their death is a profound and painful experience that cannot be understood until you’ve gone through it. Anticipation, fear, emotional and mental exhaustion, physical stress, and guilt all play a role in a part of your life that you’ll both dread and wish to be over while it’s happening–and that you’ll think back upon as long as you live.

As heart-wrenching as this experience is on the survivors, we cannot forget the experience of the most important person, your loved one. If you consider that hearing is thought to be the last sense to go in the dying process, what goes on around that person becomes incredibly important, as is knowing ahead of time what their wishes are in terms of what, and who, they hear. Having had these discussions can help make the excruciating process a bit easier on both of you. Knowing what things will be of comfort to them–like what music to play softly in the background or poems, religious passages, or books to read to them–will end up being of comfort to you and to them. 

As you attend to your loved ones you should keep lighting soft, or light candles. Try to keep bright sunlight away from their face and eyes. A person passing on may find any form of strong physical contact to be painful, so it is recommended to simply sit near them and gently hold or caress their hand. Sometimes a gentle massage to the feet or hands can provide comfort as the sense of touch provides communication on a much deeper emotional level. You may notice that they may respond with faint pressure from a thumb or a twitch of a toe, even if they are unconscious or semi-conscious. Bottom line, assume that they are able to hear and feel you, speak as if they can hear you, even if they appear to be unconscious.

Unfortunately, the process of death doesn’t always bring out the best in everyone. Situations exist where family discord may create an even more stressful environment for both those surrounding their passing loved one and the loved one themselves. Some experience those long-lost relatives who surface “just in time,” or those who have severed ties with their loved one and reemerge in the hopes of relieving guilt, receiving some closure, or trying to justify receipt of some financial gain. This is why it’s important to know what your loved one’s wishes are in terms of who visits them in an end of life situation. I also encourage everyone to have their wishes legally dictated so that there are no questions about who is entitled to any remaining estate, and so that visitation permission is clearly spelled out. 

Aside from the thought of what’s coming, probably the hardest part about End of Life is that it’s impossible to accurately predict when someone will actually pass. The process of the body shutting down can take hours, days and sometimes weeks. 

I remember my mother’s passing as though it happened just yesterday. She had made it very clear who she wanted to visit and who she did not, so we kept visitors to a minimum. The experience was surreal–physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting. I did my best to sit with her almost 24 hours a day because I couldn’t imagine leaving her alone. It wasn’t until near the end of her time in the hospice unit where we first learned of homecare agencies and what an important role they can play in these situations. In End of Life, if you can’t possibly be with your loved one 24/7, but you want them to have that sense of comfort or someone to just gently hold their hand, know that you have options with loving and compassionate caregivers who can stay with your loved one when you need even a small respite.

In closing, I want to re-emphasize the importance of finding out what your loved one’s wishes are so you can help them have a peaceful passing. Also, it is so incredibly important to communicate your own wishes to ensure that everyone closest to you knows what will give you peace in your final days.