A personal note of reflection

NB: This is a personal note, shared in a professional space.

Thank you for the notes, emails, thoughts, calls and concern shared since we notified you of the death of our son last month.

I was concerned that some newsletter recipients might feel that it was too personal to share, but I am such a believer in the power of community. One nurse leader/educator wrote that she was inspired by our generosity in sharing with the learning community that we have nurtured. Thank you. I believe and have experienced that when we mourn with those who mourn and comfort those who stand in need of comfort, that we are all strengthened. I understand that the word “comfort” means, “with strength” or “great strength”. We have felt stronger in connection than we would in isolation. Thank you for sharing our burden.

Interesting, that same nurse educator commented on our commitment to optimizing end-of-life care. Over the years I have taught how “end-of-life care” can mean everything or nothing, where hospice and palliative care by definition include “care during bereavement.” Over the years I would say that we might first meet a family in the ER when their loved one has died, and the hospice or palliative care that we provide could be a link to bereavement services. Even in all the talk that I do about death, I did not contemplate that it would be us who would experience a sudden death, that it would be me who would need to be reminded of bereavement services. And it was a few weeks after Geordie died that I remembered,

Oh, VICTORIA HOSPICE – we should check out their services for the grandkids and for us!”

And, how incredible to phone, and make an appointment for myself, and an appointment for a grandson to see a dear colleague Allyson, a specialist with kids and grief. And in reaching out to Victoria Hospice, I also reached out to Virtual Hospice and their site for kids grief, and to Andrea Warnick and her podcasts and online support for kids and grief. If anyone is looking for a counsellor who provides online counselling, please let me know. And if you provide online bereavement counselling, please let me know and we will connect you.

For those who are interested in how we are doing, what we are thinking and feeling, please keep reading.

Ted would say that he feels at peace. Some of that peace comes from his belief in eternal life, in the feeling that Geordie is alright, and the hope that he will see him again. Some people express concern that he is “not grieving.” But he IS grieving. He is much more an instrumental griever, and is busy working in Geordie’s workshop, sorting his tools, repairing things that need repairing, building a tool kit for Geordie’s wife and one for the baby, and getting tools and boats and and… and… ready for sale. We were also thrilled to have some of Geordie’s bonus First Nation family join us for dinner last week, and basked in their presence and spirit.

As for me…. Well, I am much more a verbal processor…. And so… I have found healing in: good long walks with friends (one on one), the sharing of stories, experiences, beliefs, hopes, worries and frustrations, meals with loved ones, lying on the couch listening to segments of the recordings of the funeral and of the “Last Night on the Trail” (an evening of story and song), reading cards and emails that have arrived, and last night I wrote Geordie a nice long letter. Overall, I still feel very grateful that we had Geordie for 30 years. I am glad that he did not suffer. At times I am cross, irritated and mad that Geordie who cared for soooo many people was soooo careless with his own safety. I am confident that he learned well how to walk by faith, and love and serve openly and without judgement – perhaps the most important lessons in life. On a practical level, I wonder how things work in the world of spirits, and what he is up to now. I am open to your thoughts if you want to connect with me and share.

I just wrote a Facebook post about social hibernation – and would love to hear your thoughts. That will be added to the blogpost soon.

It is amazing to me to think of the “learning community” that we are blessed to be part of, across Canada, the US and Mexico. Ted and I thank you so much for your words, wishes, hopes and happiness. Please let me know what you do and do not want to hear about in this personal/professional space. I am happy to hear any feedback and advice, happy to have your questions and your comments.

Until next month,

Kath and Ted

“I don’t have time for this!” – A Compassionate Guide to Caring for Your Parents and Yourself

Guest blog post by Katherine Arnup – life coach, speaker, and a retired Carleton University professor.  Author of the award-winning book Education for Motherhood, a history of advice for mothers, she has pioneered studies on the diversity of family life. In her latest book, “I don’t have time for this!” A Compassionate Guide to Caring for Your Parents and Yourself, she tackles the last taboo—death itself. 

Almost twenty years ago, my sister Carol died of cancer.

She was a gifted Special Education teacher, director of countless school musicals, and my big sister. In January 1997, 19 years after her first encounter with melanoma, her cancer returned with an unstoppable force. As part of a team of friends and family, I cared for her during her final six months: the saddest, most terrifying and most transformative experience of my life.

Shortly before her death, Carol quipped, “You’re going to be an expert at this by the time you’re done with me.”

“Maybe,” I protested, “but I don’t want to learn it from you!”

We both laughed, knowing that, of course, this was precisely what was happening. I had a lot of learning to do because, before my sister got sick, I was more terrified of death than you can imagine.

Caring for my sister as she was dying transformed me.

Four years after her death, I took the volunteer training course at a local residential hospice program. From the moment I entered the hospice, I knew that it was where I belonged. Week after week, I found myself talking to family members, caring for dying people, helping to teach others what my sister had taught me.

I was 47 when my sister died (she was 51). Though often scared that I might not be able to endure the situation, my love for her enabled me to face my own fear of cancer, illness – even death itself. In facing those fears which had both dominated and limited my life, I was able to bring comfort to hospice patients and their families, to friends and relatives facing their parents’ aging. And I was empowered to face my own parents’ final years when that time came.

Throughout my years of caregiving, including 14 years as a hospice volunteer, I have written about my experiences. That work culminated in the publication of my book on caring for our parents and ourselves.

The book provides a roadmap for the journey into aging, illness, and dying that we will all travel—ourselves and the people we love. With stories from my family, my coaching clients, and my years as a hospice volunteer, I encourage people to overcome their fears of aging and loss so they can show up for the challenges in their lives.

We will all go through this in our lives. Everyone has either already lost their parents or is going to at some point in their lives. That’s just a hard fact of life. And of course, each one of us will face our own death.

I want people to know that they’re not alone.

When you are faced with caring for someone you love, you feel as if you’re the only one. It’s a very difficult time, especially if you still have children at home. Hence the title of my book – “I don’t have time for this!” But you don’t have to do it all by yourself. Family members, friends, neighbours, and professionals are all able to ease our load if we are willing to reach out for help.

You can contact Katherine Arnup at katherine@katherinearnup.com.

Behavioural Changes: The Importance of “Knowing the Person”

This story is shared with us by our colleague Andrea Leatherdale – RN, BScN, Practical Nursing Program Coordinator at Centennial College. In this story, the nurse observes changes in behaviour of one of the residents. The nurse is not able to shake off the concern that something significant is about to happen. The story illustrates the nurses listening skills and her attempts to alert others to the changes. 

A woman in her late 80s with advanced dementia and COPD with limited communication.  She was usually kept engaged in hand activities, like folding laundry and dressing dolls.  The usual practice on the unit was for nursing staff to play music during morning medication rounds and engage residents with singing and dancing.  Usually this woman wouldn’t engage, even though her family said she loved music.

This woman’s COPD was typically mild, but one morning she developed a new respiratory congestion, that was relieved with inhalation medications.   At the time that the morning congestion started, she started to sing spontaneously.  She was singing “Wake me up before you go-go, I’m not planning on going solo”.  She sang this phrase over and over again.

The nurses were surprised at this sudden change. The resident did not normally engage verbally. The nurses wondered what caused this change in behaviour, they discussed it as a team and reported it to the doctor and asked the doctor to assess the woman’s chest congestion. The doctor said that since the chest congestion cleared with the morning inhalation treatments, it was not a concern.

When her family heard their mother singing, they were excited that their mother was more alert and active. They attributed this as a positive change to the way the staff was interacting with her.

The nurse assigned to care for her, who was most familiar with her, still felt that there was something else happening. She talked with the doctor again. The doctor still said since the woman was eating and drinking normally and her temperature was normal, no further investigation was needed.

The resident sang this song every morning for 5 days.  On the fifth day, she had a sudden increase in congestion. She was sent to hospital.  She died 2 days later in hospital from pneumonia secondary to COPD. Her daughter was with her at time of death. Other family members were not there. The family was concerned that she had not died in place, in her home, at the facility.

 

We’d love to hear about your experiences and thoughts on this story. Please leave your comments below.

 

Green Burials

Guest blog post by Susan Benesch – owner, and licensed funeral director, of Earth’s Option Cremation & Burial Services in Victoria, BC. Earth’s Option offers celebrations of life, funeral services, burial services, cremation services and specialize in green burials. They also provide a list of grief support resources and a pre-planning checklist on their website.

 

Green Burial has become an option available to families looking to minimize their environmental footprint when a loved one passes away. Being green and environmentally conscience has become a way of life.

What are considered alternative funeral rights and rituals?

In the past we saw traditional funerals, whereby every person was embalmed, dressed, placed in a casket and put on public display for viewing. The funeral ceremony would follow the next day with a long procession out to the cemetery. The casket would then be buried in the grave in a concrete vault and the top of the grave would have a granite headstone.

Today we see alternatives to the traditional methods of disposition of the body due to:

  • The perception of a lack of land
  • The high cost of traditional services
  • The transient nature of our communities (people no longer have roots to one community for generations)
  • The relaxation by the church to insist on traditional burial versus cremation

For these reasons greater Victoria has approximately 93% cremation – the highest in North America. As cremation deals with the disposition of the body so quickly, this affords families the ability to take their time to plan a celebration of life whereby there are no time constraints to worry about the body being present at the ceremony or service. The emphasis now is on the life lived and not on the body, as it once used to be. People are finding unique ways in which to celebrate the life of their loved one. Families are choosing to bathe the body themselves, perhaps even dress the body themselves. In addition to a more traditional funeral, some families are choosing a ‘celebration of life’ that may take on a less sombre tone, in fact, for some it can be more of a party atmosphere where often DVD videos are showing of the deceased’s life. The Internet is being widely used to share these memories with family and friends worldwide. At Earth’s Option we have been actively promoting green burial and the added involvement of family members in the process.

What is green burial?

It’s a process whereby the body is buried in a simple biodegradable container or shroud. The body is not embalmed and it is typically buried in a place of interment designated to go back to the forest or natural setting. There are no specific gravestones to mark the grave however there can be the use of a communal marker. When the burial takes place indigenous plants are placed on top of the gravesite. The fundamental idea behind a green burial is that there are no man made products in the grave or intervention in the process of the natural decomposition of the body. In greater Victoria the only designated natural or green burial site is located at the Royal Oak burial park. It is important to note that some cemeteries who claim to offer green or hybrid burials may in fact still include some man-made product’s in the grave, including caskets and/or concrete burial vaults. This is only a means to capitalize on the green movement as it is not truly green burial.

The Victoria region has been the leader in the province of BC in the green burial movement. As such, the Green Burial Society of Canada is situated in Victoria and its goal is to see green burials offered across Canada.

At Earth’s Option we offer one price for basic green burial. Additionally, one would pay for the basic shroud or the basic green burial casket. There are several choices of caskets all of which have no man-made products including lacquer, paints, metal, etc. Families are invited to consider pre-planning and preparing for the services.

 

For more information on Earth’s Option, please visit their website, visit them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter.