As I reflect on my work at Hospice, a particular article attracted my attention, “Death Is Not An Option, How You Die Is” (Nevidjon & Mayer, 2012). This article drew me in because of its focus on openly talking about death.
Prior to working at Hospice of the Red River Valley, much of my career had been spent using medical intervention with the intent to cure. My last three years were spent working with oncology patients. I have often said, I found my heart there. But I also felt a void. That void came from watching some individuals triumph through treatment, while others struggled. Some understood their fate was in their hands while others did not. As I complete another week here at Hospice, I understand that void was the ability to slow down, listen and grant permission to be in control of your destiny.
This realization really hit home for me at the conclusion of my week. I had the privilege of visiting with two families. For the first time in my career, I spoke openly about death and dying. I spoke with an individual who had never been told it is alright to stop trying to find a cure and, instead, focus on quality of life versus quantity of life. I also spoke with a daughter who struggled with role reversal; she is now the caregiver to a parent rather than the one who is cared for, and learning how to deal with the ultimate ending of death. I see my own father struggle with role reversal, as his mother is now under hospice care.
With all families, I discuss how ironic it is that our biggest fear in life is also the only guarantee in life. As I tell my children, the only promise I can make is that if you were born some day you will also die some day. Death is not something we should fear, but embrace. The first hurdle is to openly talk about it.
For more information about end-of-life care or tips on how to start a difficult conversation, please visit our website.
Jennifer Johnson is a nurse practitioner at Hospice of the Red River Valley.