By Toni Lynn Davis MHA, CNHA, FACHCA
Death and dying is a topic that is taboo for many people. End of life directives and care wishes are not often facilitated due to the reticence of people to think about life’s end for themselves or their loved ones. If one should be so lucky as to define the process of their own death in illness or old age, they should do so. Death must be more openly discussed especially with your loved ones.
As the Executive Director of a senior community, I have seen many elders pass on, including my own grandmother. In the beginning, each experience was heartbreaking. Over time, I developed a foundation for understanding the process of death as a positive step for an elder, and how we can assist in a smooth and gentle transition.
Many elders suffer everyday with both mental and physical challenges. They are burdened by the loss of friends and family members. How often have I been privy to the repeated questions from an elder of “why am I still here”? Statements like, “I am tired and I am ready to go home.” There are the physical ailments that cause pain even when given medication to reduce the symptoms. Some elders hold on to life in spite of this suffering for their family. They worry that those they love will NOT be okay if they leave. There are steps one can take to help ensure your loved one that it is okay to let go.
Long before your elder is faced with transition you should discuss their directives with them. It can be helpful to share what you might choose for your own end of life care to start the conversation. In New Jersey there is legislation called POLST- Practitioners Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatments. It is a form that one can fill out that describes what kind of treatments one is willing to accept in their final months. While no one wants to see their loved one in pain, too often people who are dying are given too many drugs and families miss the end of life miracles that can occur when someone is transitioning.
Beyond medical treatments, try to get them to share their vision for how they would go, who they want with them, what they think they might desire to be more comfortable whether it is certain music, having photographs around, or family members.
There are signs that death is nearing in an elder. They may seem to diminish physically, they are no longer interested in participating in activities, may sleep for longer periods of time and eat less. They may speak more often of leaving or going home.
As the time nears, be sure to let your loved ones know that you will be fine and it is okay if they are tired and want to leave now. It is so important for those who are getting ready to transition because it is their love for you that might be holding them back. Find a way to be okay with letting your loved one go, whether it be a belief that you will see them again or a religious or spiritual belief that you can hold onto. Find a way to let them go “home”.
I speak of the miracles in death because time and time again we hear stories of loved ones who are passing see other loved ones, whom have already passed, on the other side waiting to bring them “home”. Lucid conversations have been known to happen with people who have had years of silence from dementia or Alzheimer’s.
If you feel you can be present with your loved one, and don’t be hard on yourself if you can’t, death of an elder can be as miraculous as the birth of a baby. At Green Hill we work with hospice nurses to ensure the elder is comfortable and support families while they experience those precious end of life moments with their elder.