What About Denial?

Dear Ones,

Spring feels like the wrong season to be thinking about death. No one wants to go there when life is putting on a gorgeous show! If we take a moment to reflect, though, we can accept that that without death there’s little room for new life.

And let’s face it, denial can be a useful tool – it allows us to allow in the harder parts of our reality in manageable bits. In my work with those who anticipate a loss or grieve one, I have seen the darker side of denial – and its consequences.

We can wish away what is happening to a dying loved one, but to refuse to acknowledge what is happening is to rob the loved one and one’s self of two important gifts: the first is a chance to focus on the quality of the life still to be be lived; the second is to say good-bye.

By a good-bye, I mean communicating – with words, gestures, acts of lovingkindness – all that is most important, and often unspoken – our sadness, our love, and our thanks. In a good farewell we forgive or ask for forgiveness; we make a few more memories and share those we’ve made; we acknowledge our gratitude for the love we’ve received; we say out loud, “I love you. I will miss you.”

When we embrace the reality of what is, we have energy to make the most of our time together, to make meaning of the story of our shared lives, and to rest in the completeness that a complete farewell brings. Then we receive the energy that insures our loving will outlive our loss.

Sending you light and love,

Rev. Eliza

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In the dog park one morning, I explained my ministry to a gentle new friend. “So our team supports natural death, where that is an option,” I told her, excited by my new job (as a pet hospice chaplain) and what it offered pets and their people.

“What!” she responded, horrified. “I’d euthanize my dog immediately if she were in any pain.” Puzzled and shocked by her vehemence, I wasn’t sure what to say. After a few moments, she explained that her parents had both died painful deaths from cancer, and her conviction that a timely death with dignity would have been a far more humane way for them to end their lives.

Though I was curious, I didn’t ask her about how their pain was managed (palliative care) – her suffering in remembering was too great. I told her how sorry I was that she’d lost her parents, and that they suffered so. I could understand, now, why she’d responded to the idea of a natural death the way she had.

What I’d say today is that palliative care has come a long way, as have medical professionals, in their understanding of how timely home care combined with careful attention to palliative care can help extend a meaningful life. With effective hospice care, the goal is for hours, days, sometimes months, to bring joy in one another’s company, favorite things – places, foods, games, friends – words of understanding and love, and, finally, saying good-bye.

I know some people think my work is morbid, or they don’t want to think about it at all. Given that all living beings die, we need to think about the fact that we can choose how to approach life, how to live fully and meaningfully, how to take fullest advantage of what we have.

Witnessing a rich, full ending of life – the embrace of those last days together rather than wasting them in anger, regret or bitterness- is what inspires me, balancing the sadness and grief that accompanies this work. There’s nothing new in this -Joan Rivers said as much to her daughter when she was preparing for surgery.

Living gratefully within the moments we’re given graces our life and the lives of those around us. How we approach the fact that life ends determines how fully we’ll live the days we have.
The day ends in beauty.

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