Tag: endoflife


A few weeks ago, I was seated around the bedside of a mother and grandmother, talking with her children. The patient was dancing between this world and the next, so peacefully and her daughters were just relived that she was finally reaching the end of a years long struggle. It had glorious highs with hopeful prognosis and soul crushing lows which caused this family to close ranks and focus on what meant the most to them. When mom decided that she was ready to enjoy what life she had left without doctor’s appointments and scans – without nausea so profound she was unable to open the blinds and without such exhaustion that even lifting her hand to caress the face of her granddaughter was a struggle, her family supported her choice.  That was about four months ago and hospice was called in. Our paths crossed there and brought us here. To this moment.

As she lay there, her breathing slowing down, if you could imagine the batting of a butterfly’s wings, so elegant and graceful, her daughters started to tell me stories of the precancerous life. At one point during a very animated moment, both daughters started laughing recounting a moment when Mom attempted to absentmindedly bake a cake and used powdered sugar instead of flour.  They both turned to me, with shock, and said “Oh my God, Helen… Mom is dying and we are laughing!  Is that allowed?”  “Of course it is!  I am sure she can hear you and is loving it all!” The girls went on to share more stories and Mom peacefully passed. The soft smile on her face proof that she loved every moment of their loving laughter.

So, what is allowed when someone is dying?  It’s not like Emily Post wrote about it or for you younger folk that you can search it on Wikipedia. As a hospice nurse, I have seen the gamut of emotions. The rainbow of feelings that one’s passing elicits is vast. Let me tell you what I think is ok… again… full disclaimer… my blog… my opinion.  Don’t forget… I am a loud, sassy, emotional and heart on my sleeve Greek woman, so some folks might not agree. I digress

It is ok to cry.

I am going to say that again, it is ok to cry.  That means everything from the single tear to the please hand me a tissue because the snot is overtaking me crying. No one has the right to dictate how you cry. I will put one exception here, I have seen, mostly in very small villages where people throw themselves on the deceased or dying person and caused them harm. Please don’t do that. Cry all you want. Don’t forget tissues and waterproof eye make up.

It is ok to laugh. Working in this death business, I often think about what it might be like when I go. Do I want people sitting around sobbing over me?  No way!  Especially if I am still there and hearing is the last sense to go!  I want to hear the stupid stories about how my brother tried to make me ride a goat when I was 5 and got lice. Laugh!  Heck, laugh till you cry. It’s ok.


It is ok to feel conflicted. Death or dying brings so many emotions. How could you not be conflicted?  Think of that period as a almost a time you are sifting for gold. You have all the sandy sediment junk on top, but, in time, as you move through the emotional stages, you will find the gold. Yes, you will miss that person, but, there is goodness that comes from death. It’s not always easy to see.

It is ok to be angry. Sometimes, people are angry at the person that is dying for not trying hard enough with treatments. That’s their choice. You might not agree with it, but, you do have to respect it. While it’s ok to be angry for a while, it’s not ok to stay angry… that’s an emotion that needs working through as soon as possible.

It’s ok to recount, recall, tell stories, make jokes (ok, maybe not crude ones)… all of those things help people begin to heal.

It’s ok to scream in a pillow when you are alone

It’s ok to eat a pint of ice cream while crying (not that this is from personal experience… tears and chocolate almond are yummy)

It is ok to see a therapist. No one is a fortress. It’s ok and really healthy to ask for health when dealing with all of these emotions.

Death just doesn’t change the life of the one dying. It changes the lives of everyone.

The Certain Uncertainty

pexels-photo-66100.jpegThis particular blog has been hard for me to write.  Not because of anything in particular, but because I had the idea for what I wanted to express, but, getting the words to flow together was another story.  My words, just like our lives sometimes do, just would not meld together with any rhythmic flow.  As people, faced with a mountain of choices, we find ourselves at the cross roads of what we think we should be doing and what we want to be doing.

To this day, I have never met a patient that had regrets about how big his house was or how designer her handbag was.  The most common of woes is time.  That precious commodity that, try as we might, cannot be increased nor can it be taken back.  Time to laugh more.  Time to live more.  Time to just be.  Not time to worry.  Not time to pontificate over things that, at the end of the journey, have no real value.

Learning to just be is such a challenging idea for some to grasp.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to imply that you lose all ambition and stay stagnant.  What I mean is that you learn to appreciate what is going on all around you.  Take it in.  Realize that tomorrow will bring whatever it will bring.  We can try to change it, but, at the end of the day, our influence on tomorrow only goes so far.  There is always the certain uncertainty of tomorrow.

When an artist starts a new piece, he/she has an idea of what they want their creation to become.  Always taken into account is the fact that art, which imitates life, does not follow a purely horizontal trajectory.  Sometimes, when blips happen, the blips become the most beautiful parts of the piece because it is what makes the piece unique.

I’ve learned so many lessons from people who I know did not set out to teach me lessons.  They need my care and my empathy.  In return, I get a glimpse into how life should be lived.  Getting caught up in “What should I do? Who should I be? Where will my life go?” does nothing but waste precious time.  If you are unhappy, change what makes you unhappy.  If it means altering your life, so be it.  Those that love you will understand.  But, sometimes when we find ourselves questioning everything, the universe surprises us by showing that where we are is right where we should be.

That moment that just went by, that was a moment no one will ever get back.  That is a moment that just like the ones after, was an opportunity to just be.  Appreciation.  Gratitude.  Thankfulness.  Just be.  Go with the flow.  It doesn’t mean disengage and give up.  Fully engage and push forward until you find what sets your soul on fire.  Remember, all of our moments are numbered.  Fretting wastes those moments.  You don’t want those to be the moments you wish you had back.