Category Archives: Death and Dying

The Human Condition

I just finished taking the class, “End of Life Issues” and didn’t take from it quite what I had hoped.Death  Sure I wanted to use what I learned in practice, but truthfully I was hoping I would get at least half a step closer to relieving some of my death anxiety.  The only real thing I took from the class was that certain Middle Eastern cultures loathe the way they THINK we treat our elders.  That theme became evident very early in class. I’m not going to elaborate; I’d need an entirely new blog for that topic, so I’m just going to move on.  What I did find in my search was several books related to this fascinating topic of death, the “main task of human life” (oddly put, but all-in-all very true), of which I have chosen “The Denial of Death” by Ernest Becker to begin my literal venture.  The title, for obvious reasons, caught my eye since all my life I have tried to deny that my death is evident. Tried to set it aside in the back of my mind….but that never works, let’s be honest.  And I can’t say that I’ve chosen the best career path, nursing in an ICU, if I was actually trying to avoid the thought altogether.

But lately, series of events have made my “natural phenomenon of life” become real as ever and I have been having pretty severe  anxiety because of it.  As kids we think of ourselves as invincible, death to us is so far away it barely exists to us–we almost consider ourselves immortal.  The evidence is in our careless, “it couldn’t happen to me,” actions.  And here I am the nurse who works in ICU who sees tragic diagnoses that change the lives of families in the blink of an eye.  My friends getting surgery to prevent cancer and, sadly, friends getting cancer.  Hell, my own three year old cousin is fighting cancer right now.  So what will be my fate? What life-changing phone call will I receive?  Or will it be me with the cancer, my family at the next terrorist attack, my care hit by a drunk driver? These thoughts never leave me. They follow me constantly as I try to “live life to the fullest”, my so-called motto.

So I’ve set out in search of some comforting words that may make some sense of it all and it seems that my fears are the “paradox of man.” “…to live a whole lifetime with the fate of death haunting one’s dreams and even the most sun-filled days…everything that man does in his symbolic world is an attempt to deny and overcome his grotesque fate.” OK. So this guy Ernest and all the philosophers before me get what I’m feeling, so what do I do about it? I’m too literal to turn to the Bible…I just don’t get the Message.  Pope John Paul could have lunch with me and it’s not going to make me feel any better because he can’t give me the proof I need.  Is this my temporary body? Will I see my loved ones on the other side?

“The great boon of repression is that it makes it possible to live decisively in an overwhelmingly miraculous and incomprehensible world, a world so full of beauty, majesty, and terror that if animals perceived it all they would be paralyzed to act.”  So maybe I was an animal in a previous life because sometimes I feel semi-paralyzed. To be continued….

Hospice….reality hits home

IMG_2118So I’m sitting here writing a paper about death and dying for my “End of Life Issues” class and I reference the 5 stages of dying.  The last stage, acceptance, is defined as: “coming to terms with reality. It is accepting that the world will still go on without you. Death is after all, just a part of LIFE.”

OUCH! I think my dinner just hit the back of my throat.  Will our society ever accept the life, the temporary being, that was meant for us all along?

As  I reread this blog, my thought is that I sound like some kind of preacher or something…the truth is, I’m really ASKING YOU, “how is it that death is supposed to be acceptable?” I see myself being lowered into my tomb…as my Papa, Mimi, and Uncle Randy were lowered in front of me…did they move on…or did they cease to exist? This is the question I will seek to find the comfort in knowing as I peruse through life. My dream is that my family will assist me in this quest. Can you imagine it? This infection of perusal in our life mission by my endearing family that I cherish so much? That is the quest that I intend to lead. Are you with me?

Few will understand, but for those who do, the meaning of life, and our life’s meaning, will surely be self-evident…or so is I hope.

Am I a Hippocrate?

So here I am trying to convince everyone (myself) that dying is a fact of life and should be accepted as such, but we all know that dying is our BIGGEST fear…even worse, having one of our children die.  If you think about it, death is constantly around us.  We see it. We hear about it.  We fear it..not just our own deaths, but the deaths of our children, our loved ones.

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I remember the beginning of one of my Mom’s chapters, the chapter she began after the death of her Mother.  I remember the dynamics of the entire family changing on that day.  My Mother hasn’t been the same since, and neither has anyone in the family.  And now I’m in her shoes, watching my parents age and I am desperate for everything to stay the same  as it was for my Mom before my Grandma died.  So, while I sit here with worry about what is to come…and other things that could possibly happen, I ponder, “am I a Hippocrate?”

I have dedicated my life to improve end of life ‘stories’, but in reality I am terrified of it…for myself and everyone in my life that I love.  I see people day in and day out faced with death and can’t imagine what feelings are consuming them. I try to put myself in their shoes and hope that I can someday accept fate so I can live my life without the worry that age is going to consume me, make me ugly, dependent, and sorrowful. So maybe my calling is more of a search to put ease in my mind about what is to come….

So what IS my calling?

So for those of you who don’t know, I am currently in school to obtain my Doctor of Nursing Practice Degree.  The path that got me here has to be faith because it just feels like a puzzle that fell into place.  I never wanted to become a nurse.  In fact, I quit college because I had no clue what I wanted to do.  Then I had my Brendon. It was that experience that led me to nursing….

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I had such a wonderful experience during labor that I was inspired to become an L&D nurse.  I saw the importance of the nurse to a woman in labor and thought I could really impact this area.  So I set some goals and off I went!

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Somehow I ended up in ICU…maybe by fate…but I fell in love with this area of expertise and just knew this was where I was supposed to be the moment I arrived.  Here I am almost 10 years later and I am more inspired than ever. You see, while I thought that my “calling” was to foster children, providing them a solid foundation to believe in love and family regardless if they stayed with us or went back to their parents, my TRUE calling was right under my nose.

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By this time all three of my sons had fulfilled every square inch of my heart (and soul) and I had set out (with Jamie) to spoil them rotten and show them the World….which costs $$$, so with my passion for nursing and my passion for doing things that cost money, I decided to further my education.

So here I am absolutely crazed as I wear many hats: the mom hat, the manager hat, the nurse hat, the student hat, and the hat that wants to SAVE THE WORLD! I was told that all Graduate students want to save the world, but I figure the odds are that very few of us actually will….In reality, it’s not that I want to “save” the world, but I sure as Hell plan to change it

After a morally distressing ethics case at my work, one of the physician’s said:

This process of coding bodies will unfortunately go on for years because society considers that we are this temporary body and not the soul.  As I said earlier in one of the meetings, we have created a deathless society.

 Unless and until it is etched in the hearts and minds of people that “we are not this temporary body but the eternal soul”, these unnecessary acts of body preservation will go on.
 
There is no profession in the world other than healthcare professionals to deliver this eternal message.
It was then that I realized that our culture has the wrong idea about death!  We have become so obssessed with the miracle of medicine and technology that we forget who is responsible for our lives…not medicine. Not machines. And yet we often depend on these things to live…unnaturally at times…because that has become a custom in our culture.  Other countries don’t think this way.  They rely on Faith and Spirituality to fulfill their lives.  So how did we get so far off the path?  It is that path that I plan to get us back on. A path that teaches us that death is part of the human cycle, but doesn’t mean an “end” to life.  It is another chapter in our lives, like so many chapters we have already written.