Putting ‘Human’ Back in Dying, Death, and Grief
I have spent a fair bit of time in and around death over the past twenty years and I have noticed a missing ingredient I will for the moment call ‘the lack’.
I noticed ‘the lack’ as I spent time with my dying brother Peter.
I notice ‘the lack’ in hospitals and funeral homes.
I notice ‘the lack’ in long term care homes.
I notice ‘the lack’ in our nursing programs.
I spent a morning with a group of student LPNs recently talking about dying, death, grief and self-care. We had a grand time and the students seemed to be well served. Here is a piece of a short email one of the instructors sent me.
“The students commented on how much they valued your presentation
and for keeping it “real”.”
This note stuck me, especially the piece – for keeping it “real”. I found myself wondering why you wouldn’t keep it real. Why you wouldn’t present how it really is? Odd… Then it came to me they are using the word ‘real’ in place of the word human. It started to make sense.
I thought about the time I spent with Peter in the hospital as he was receiving treatment for his cancer a couple of years ago and there it was ‘the lack’. There was lots of staff, nurses and doctors. There was a helluva a lot of equipment. There were a lot of drugs, tasks, and treatments. There was a lot of professionalism. There was a lot of focus on the cancer.
I recalled my time in the funeral business. There was a lot of stuff for sale, caskets, urns, and funeral packages. There were lots of politically correct words and phrases. There was a lot of professionalism. And there it was again… ‘the lack’.
Thinking back to several recent visits I had to assisted living and long term care homes I saw it again. There were lots of duties, tasks, and schedules to get done. There were lots of medications to deliver. There were lots of policies and procedures to follow. There was a lot of charting to do. And there was ‘the lack’.
It seems we focus on the illness, the age, the tasks and treatments, the professionalism and totally avoid looking at the oh so obvious ‘lack’. We have inadvertently allowed all that we do to replace the simple and most profound task of all. We have allowed our technology to fill the gap, to replace if you will the risky business of filling ‘the lack’. We have become doctors, nurses, care-aides, funeral directors, volunteers and professionals. In all of this we seem to have lost the most important ingredient of all – Our everyday humanity.
The only thing that can fill ‘the lack’ is our individual and collective courage to be
real, raw, vulnerable, authentically, unbearably, painfully,