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Family Discussions

Today, I want to start with a story about my dad.  My dad was a great guy, and his bark was much worse than his bite.  He could be very gruff on the outside, but on the inside, he was a big ole teddy bear.  In 2014, my dad passed away from recurrent colon cancer that came back with a vengeance and eventually spread to his brain.  It was not an unexpected passing.  When he learned his cancer had returned, he opted for a cycle of chemo, and it knocked the wind out of his sails.  He made the decision to not pursue treatment – it was not making him feel well – his counts were not recovering – and he did not want to spend his final weeks and months bouncing in and out of doctor’s offices and hospital rooms.  I truly respected my dad’s decision.  My dad was one of eleven children and was the first of his siblings to die.  When his wife and I realized that his time was coming to an end here on this earth, I notified his siblings and let them know that if they wanted to see dad one more time, while he was still coherent, they needed to come up sooner rather than later.  My dad lived in Ohio and none of his siblings lived nearby.  In fact, none of them even lived in Ohio, so to visit my dad required travel and planning.  His siblings were scattered up and down the East Coast.   Gratefully, they did come up to see him…they came in waves as I like to say.  I remember when the first wave came up, and as they came into the house, one of his brothers yelled out to dad (he hadn’t even laid eyes on him yet), “Tom, how are you doing?”  My dad yelled back, “Well, I’m dying.”  This caught his brother off guard, but his witty comeback was, “Well, we’re all dying.”  And my dad, in perfect character said, “Well, I’m dying faster than you are.”  I really respect my dad for being able to come to terms with the fact his life was coming to an end.  And he was at peace with that decision – that was a true gift.

My dad made the decision to stop treatment for his colon cancer.  It was a gift to understand that those were his wishes.  And we respected my dad enough to know that treatment was taking its toll on him.  His wife, myself and my 5 other siblings had to put our own selfish needs aside…because, of course, we want him to pursue treatment…. we selfishly wanted him to stay around a little longer. However, this wasn’t about us, and we opted to respect his wishes and not make him feel guilty for his choices.  This is so KEY because as a country, the United States does not do death well.  We love to celebrate birthdays, but we do not like talk about, or think about, the fact that we are all going to die.  No one is going to outlive this plant.  If you are a fan of TikTok, there are some great hospice nurses that are creating great content you might find very helpful:  Nurse Hadley, Nurse Penny and Nurse Julie.

HERE’S MY CHALLENGE FOR YOU, especially if there is a holiday coming up when you read this article. And the challenge is this:  as we get together with our loved ones, think about who is in your inner circle – you probably already know.  And have some frank conversations about what end of life looks like for you.  As I said earlier, we don’t do death well in this country, but we have to talk about what end of life looks like regardless of whether or not you have a terminal diagnosis or not, because people die of accidents all the time… car accidents… COVID… you name it.  But, if you can have those conversations ahead of time and your family understands when you want when that time comes, it takes the burden off of their shoulders and helps them make decisions that honor you.  And is helps lessen the trauma as they grieve your loss, if or when, you pass before them. 

Hope you find this helpful.  As always, I’m here for you. If you’d like to talk or ask me specific questions, please click HERE and select a day and time that works best for your schedule 🙂

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