All this got me thinking about how grateful I am to my Mom. She talks a lot about death and sickness, pain and suffering - and she always has. Yes, it was always part of her job and profession - ministry is of course inextricably linked to questions and discussion about death and dying and she is also deeply interested in and talks about death with ease. At times it can be a bit much. But, as a result and I am so thankful for it, I feel very comfortable in conversations about death. I don't avoid the topics or situations. It isn't at all something to brag about, but I do think our generation in particular, doesn't know how to talk about it or really handle these situations and I feel like I really know how to handle and approach it all.
Growing up, after church every Sunday, we visited the nursing home. Our family dinner conversations and day time phone calls to this day with my Mom are sprinkled with updates about funerals or sick people or someone who is about to die. And some of the best advice on what to say and how to handle these situations was coached to us by Mom when we were children. For example...
What is the best and only thing you should say to someone initially after a death or a diagnosis or a tragic situation?
- I am so sorry. (Plain and simple)
What is the last sensory to go when someone is dying? And why is that important?
- Their hearing. So, when you're in a hospital room, don't talk about a person in the third person right in front of them, or about their condition - talk with them and to them like they are there in the room - because they are and you don't know what the last thing they will hear is.
Write a will. Write a will. Write a will!
- Both my parents can talk about this ad nauseam. The questions, complications, drama and just deep emotional toll and trauma that you can't predict and that is caused when a person does not have a will and it is left to family members to decide can be devastating - not just the possessions but your basic end of life preferences, even some guidelines about what you would want for a funeral (I just want lots of eulogies and storytelling for the record!). Do everyone a favor. Write it down.
What is a good gift for someone in the hospital?
- What you should bring the person you are visiting in the hospital - well, that should be personal. You can't go wrong with a blanket for whoever is sitting in the chair next to them since hospitals are always so cold and impersonal? But, you know what you should really do, bring some donuts, cupcakes or treats for the nurses and doctors. At the end of the day, you want the best care for the person, and a little something to draw the nurses back into the room for a little extra attention - that goes a long way!
These are just some of the things my Mom taught us to go along with the forever intangible of just being comfortable sitting in silence when needed and confronting head on the most terrible parts of life. Thanks Mom!