In doing interviews and research for my book Soul Service: A Hospice Guide to the Emotional and Spiritual Care for the Dying (Balboa Press, 2013)www.soulservice.info it became obvious that most dying people do not want to die alone, certainly not in pain. Those are their biggest fears. They want to have visitors and the emotional support of caring family and friends. The dying person often needs to make certain that everyone and everything will be OK before they die. Those with small children are especially sensitive to those feelings. The dying want their own spiritual belief system respected and not someone else’s forced on them.
Dying people wish for honest open communication with their loved ones. The urgency of illness is a great opportunity to talk openly and honestly. You can encourage this by asking your dying loved one to review their life with you and get them to share their feelings about it. This can be done professionally by a historian,(www.personalhistorians.org ), or just by videotaping or recording on audio tape what your dying loved one has to say about their life. Encourage them to share their favorite memories and most challenging times. The dying person may want to participate in writing their own obituary or eulogy. They may want to leave a scrapbook or box with mementos for a particular person. At one Atlanta area hospice, they are providing life legacy boxes to their dying patients. These boxes are given to the patient at no charge and the patient can put whatever is meaningful to them in the box. These boxes can be handed down from generation to generation. For further information visit www.lifelegacybox.org
The dying have a need for touch as there is often a sense of the untouchable with a terminal disease. If pain allows, holding a hand, rubbing an arm or a back would be appreciated. Make space for the dying loved one by putting them in a room accessible to the family, not in a back bedroom. A front room in the home would be better so they can better interact with their loved ones. It is very important to take the time to just be with the ones you love in the end as these last days are memorable and you will never forget them
Australian palliative care nurse, Bonnie Ware wrote a book about the five things dying people most regret. They are: Having had the courage to be true to one self and not the expectations of others, not having worked so hard, having had the courage to express their feelings, staying in touch with friends and being happier. Often we focus on what is wrong or missing from our lives and neglect to appreciate all the good we have in our lives. Ware hopes that we all can gain wisdom from the dying as they share with us their regrets. Not dying with our music still inside us seems to be the number one regret, don’t be afraid to go for your dream.