Facing Our Fear of Death
Recently, I arrived at a patient’s home for the first time and was greeted by her husband. He warmly welcomed me in and then asked me to remove my name badge that said hospice. He went on to request that I not mention the word hospice and that I not talk about death or dying. This caring and incredibly loving spouse felt that even the words hospice or dying might be too difficult for his wife emotionally, and he wanted to protect her. These feelings are not unusual and the desire to save our loved ones from unnecessary suffering is natural. But often by avoiding the very issues we most fear, we prevent the possibility of healing and wholeness that is possible even as we face the end of life.
We are aware that each person will face death. Most of us also, find ways to not think or talk about that reality. But when an individual is given a terminal diagnosis, there’s also an opportunity for open and honest dialogue with loved ones. By admitting that we are afraid, by naming our fears, we can begin to lessen death’s power to control us. Living with a terminal illness can bring a range of emotions from shock and sadness, anger and resentment, depression and hopelessness. All of these feelings deserve compassion and care; all deserve to be honored and nurtured. But only by first facing your prognosis can the hospice’s community of care begin the miracle of finding meaning and purpose that we all seek.
When we are told you only have weeks or months to live, we can feel stripped naked and vulnerable. But this experience of complete vulnerability can be the very gift we most need as we near the end of life. Letting go of the desire to protect and control opens the door for true and heart-healing dialogue. We realize that the gift of our total presence with loved ones is the most precious medicine we have. When we wash away all of the other distractions and protections, we can listen to each other and share with new openness. This gift of presence allows for the possibility of times remembered, love expressed, regrets acknowledged, forgiveness extended, and meaning revealed.
And by talking with our loved ones with compassion and loving kindness about the end of life, we also create a sacred space where faith can be present and where the spirit lives. In this sacred space we can ask the questions that are on our hearts, share beliefs that we hold, and raise understandings that may cause us anxiety. For when we are vulnerable to ourselves, to our loved ones, and to our faith, we see that our life can never be defined by a diagnosis or prognosis; it is defined by the life and love we share.
By David Fife, Casa de la Luz Hospice ChaplainBack to Articles