It made me aware of how far we’ve come in our culture regarding death and dying, thanks to people like Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, Stephen Levine and my friend Jan Selliken, who led the discussion yesterday. Jan worked for years as a midwife and OB nurse. When she was introduced to hospice work, she found a new calling and became aware of the similarities between the birth and death processes. (Jan's book, The True Work of Dying, is available from Amazon.)
When I was growing up, death was rarely discussed. Dying people were sequestered in nursing homes and hospitals, the dead were whisked away as soon as the event occurred, funerals were macabre affairs that had little to do with the deceased person. We owe a debt of gratitude to hospice and palliative care organizations for working to shift attitudes about death and dying.
Being almost ten years out as a survivor, dying is not a subject that’s quite as in my face as it is for the women in this support group (the issues of long-term survival are for another blog post), but one topic seemed to be common for all of us – the fear that our wishes about our dying and death wouldn’t be honored. Those things included:
- Having decisions made for us by those who are certain of what we want
- Having people around us during the dying process who we want to be there
- Honoring our wishes about what is done with our bodies after death and about the kinds of memorials or celebrations we want to have happen
Jan also made us aware of the Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment, or POLST, which is like Advance Directives on steroids. It doesn’t replace Advance Directives, but complements them by being more specific about the kind of life sustaining care you do or do not want administered.
My role in this amazing group yesterday after the discussion was to facilitate the creation of SoulCollage cards. I provided materials, gave them a quick demo of how to put a card together and in an hour, they had each created a remarkable piece of art. As our closing, each woman talked about the process and the product, and as you can imagine, the results were profound. Thank you all for sharing your hearts and spirits!
On another note: I'm still waiting for the final word from SSDI. According to my online file, a final decision has been made and I’ll be hearing via mail soon. Maybe tomorrow? Fingers crossed!