Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Honest Converation, not Denial is Best for Your Dying Loved One.

My precious, most loved sister, passed away, a victim of cancer on September 28, 2013. I still think of her many times a day. Every little thing I do can spark a memory of her. There are happy memories, but far too often, with the memory comes deep regret. Why didn't I do more? Say more? Understand more? What a fool I was, and what a lot of precious time together I wasted.

I just read an article by Ellen Goodman about conversations about death, published in the New York Times. I wish I'd read it when I was taking care of my loved one before her death. But who knows how I would have translated it to my own situation. My biggest problem, my demise, the source of all my regrets, was that lack of conversation. And the reason I didn't have the important conversations and live accordingly is because of my stubborn denial. I wore my denial like a badge of honor—which in hindsight was just the opposite. It was a travesty, a dishonoring of my sister, and a barrier to all that could have made her death a "good" death, instead of a "bad" one. By bad, I mean one that haunts me with regrets as I look back in many scenarios at what I wish I had done instead of what I did. Many of her last days were "bad" miserable days, that could have been better, if not for my denial

When doctors told her that she would die, and there was nothing else they could do, I said, No way. We will cure this thing. I will not let you die. I researched many "cures," read testimonials of the many saved lives, and begged her to try them. Marijuana has been known to completely rid a person of cancer. The problem was, it was too late. Her cancer had progressed too far for it to work. I couldn't accept that, and really, no one was telling us that, as probably no one knew.

I watched videos that said WE CAN CURE CANCER NOW, and claimed that it didn't matter at what stage your cancer was in. Their programs worked. The treatments included special diet, exercise, heat treatments, oxygen chambers, etc. The science behind all these things seemed sound. And I know of cancer patients who claim this treatment cured their cancer. But none that I know of had cancer as far advanced as hers.

But under my urging, she decided to go to one near her that offered all of the treatments I had been reading about. She was never one to jump into something without investigating it. It turned out that a member of her church had recently taken the treatment and recommended it. She called the facility where we planned to go, explained her situation and the doctors' diagnosis and prognosis and asked if they could help her. They gave her enough assurance that she agreed to go. And so we signed up. I went with her as her support person, and we stayed at the residence in order to take in every bit of the benefits, even though she lived less than a half hour drive away.

My sister commented that her greatest fear was that they would see her and turn her away. She dreaded hearing the words, "We're sorry, but we can't cure you." It would have been honest and much better for Joan if they had. They didn't. And I fault them for that. They surely knew that they could not help her. But they took her money anyway. 

She got very sick while we were there. I figured she would have gotten sick anyway—she had been having these bouts with nausea, diarrhea, fatigue, pain and/or constipation for some time—and I thought it was good that she was there with caring professionals to take care of her. And they did try. There was one woman in particular who took my sister under her wings with gentle, palliative, and comforting care, and as my sister told her, "You saved my life," but ultimately, she just wanted to go home.

It was me with my damnable denial that kept her there. I didn't realize what she was saying when she told me in her gentle, loving way, "If it weren't for you, I'd give up and go home." I took it as a "Good on you, Sis you are keeping me strong so I can do this and get well." I heard it that way because I was so entrenched in my belief that she would get well if we did everything right, if we just fought hard enough that I thought she felt the same way. Now I believe she knew better but was too kind to tell me that what she really meant was, "I want to go home. This isn't working for me, and I hate it, but because you are getting something from it—for your sake—I'll stay."

Even close to the end, when I came back and stayed with her again, my denial kept me from having the conversations that would have helped me make her last days more comfortable and happier. But I always thought there was more time. And so I took a "week or two" off to go home and catch up, thinking she'll make it to her birthday. She'll be here for Thanksgiving, her favorite holiday. She'll see another Christmas.

She didn't. And looking back, as I do many times every day, I see ways in which I could have made the autumn of her life more comfortable, peaceful, and happy. If only I'd let go of my denial of the facts that stared me in the face and listened, really listened, to what she was trying to tell me, and given her what she really wanted.

Sunday, July 5, 2015


We are too often in life our own jailers,
Our thoughts and fears; lock and key.
We keep our souls in confinement
When we really just want be free.

With concern that our ideas are counter
To what the majority hold
We keep still or nod in agreement
For speaking up for ourselves is too bold.

We wonder how others perceive us
And we make that worry our guide.
Lacking confidence in our own worth,
We keep seeking our true self to hide.

In order to truly have freedom
No matter what trials ensue.
We must quit the quest for vain glory
And to our convictions be true. 

by Janet Muirhead Hill
Author of the Miranda and Stalight books about a girl and the horse she loves. Enjoy the ride.