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Dying & Death Talk

Looking at dying and death for what it is: a part of life.

Near Death, Seeing Dead People May Be Neither Rare Nor Eerie

Courtesy of The US News and World Report.com | By By Associated Press, Wire Service Content | By GARY ROTSTEIN, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette | Originally Published 07.08.2018 | Posted 08.20.2018

Beth Roncevich’s father was in his last few days of life when laughter unexpectedly emerged. “He said, ‘Everybody’s together and we’re all just having a wonderful time,'” she said.

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Beth Roncevich’s father was in his last few days of life, lying in bed in his Indiana Township home with her and her mother somberly by his side. 

Though his eyes were closed while terminally ill from lung disease on that day four years ago, laughter unexpectedly emerged from Albin Langus.

“I said ‘Dad, what are you laughing at?’ He said, ‘Oh, we’re all together.’ “The bewildered Roncevich and her mother wondered who and what he was seeing. He was even giggling.

“He said, ‘Everybody’s together and we’re all just having a wonderful time. We’re having so much fun’ … and those were the last words he spoke,” she recounted last week between her visits to patients of UPMC Family Hospice and Palliative Care. “I said to my mom, ‘What more could we ask for than that?’ Wherever he was going, he was in a good place and happy.

Her father’s sense of a final party with whoever it was – she’s still not sure who – occurred shortly before Roncevich became a hospice nurse. In that field, she’s become accustomed to hearing of such positive encounters from her patients – or from their relatives who describe what the patients told them. Continue reading “Near Death, Seeing Dead People May Be Neither Rare Nor Eerie”

How Do You Want to Die?

Courtesy of The NewYorkTimes.com | By Dr. Sandeep Jauhar | Illustration by Arianna Vairo | Originally Published 07.28.2018 | Posted 08.18.2018

Like most patients, mine wanted to live as long as possible. So when I brought up the option of a small implantable defibrillator for his failing heart, he immediately said yes. The device would be inserted in his chest to monitor his heartbeat and apply an electrical shock if the rhythm turned into something dangerous. It was like the paddles in the emergency room, I told him, but it would always be inside him.

In truth I wasn’t sure if a defibrillator was really such a good idea. My patient was near the end of his life. He might live longer than a year, but certainly no more than five. Patients with heart failure mostly die in one of two ways: either from a sudden, “lights-out” arrhythmia that stops the heart, or from insidious pump failure, in which the heart increasingly fails to meet the metabolic demands of the body. The former, which the defibrillator would help prevent, is quick and relatively painless. The latter, which the defibrillator would make more likely, is protracted and physically agonizing.

When the time came, wouldn’t it be better for my patient to die suddenly than to struggle for breath as congestive heart failure filled his lungs with fluid?

It was a difficult thing to bring up with my patient — how he wanted to die — in part because his death wasn’t imminent. But with the rise of technologies like implantable defibrillators, this is a subject with which doctors and patients will increasingly have to grapple: not the inevitability of death, but the manner of one’s demise.

Continue reading “How Do You Want to Die?”

How to Leave a Legacy When You Don’t Have Children

Courtesy of The New York Times.com | By Anna Goldfarb | Illustration by Rebekka Dunlap | Originally Published  07.17.2018 | Posted 08.15.2018

The question of what you leave behind can be especially fraught for people who do not have heirs.

Karen Malone Wright, 62, is well aware of the existential implications of not having offspring. As founder of TheNotMom.com, a website for childless women — and an only child with no kids herself — she’s never been able to shake the feeling of being last one to turn the lights out.

For some people who don’t have children by choice or circumstance, the issue of leaving a legacy can be especially fraught.

Ms. Malone Wright, who lives in Cleveland, noted that even if you have a child, you have no way to control where your child carries your legacy; it might not be a direction you would choose.

Some try to contribute to the greater good by serving as coaches or mentors or supporting charities. Others aim to make enduring contributions in their careers.

If you’re a nonparent like Cecil H. Green, the founder of Texas Instruments, you leave vast sums of money to the world’s pre-eminent medical and educational institutions. If you’re Beethoven, Luther Vandross or Joey Ramone, you leave a catalog of hits behind. If you’re Julia Child or Frida Kahlo, you inspire future generations through your passions.

However, you don’t have to be rich, a genius or a world-renowned luminary to touch people’s lives for generations to come. Here are some ways to leave a lasting legacy when you don’t have genetic offspring. Continue reading “How to Leave a Legacy When You Don’t Have Children”

The Mystery of End-of-Life Rallies

Courtesy of The New York Times. com | By Judith Matloff | Photo by Shaun Best/Reuters | Orignally Published 07.24.2018 | Posted 08.12.2018

Palliative care experts say it is not uncommon for people in hospice care to perk up briefly before they die, sometimes speaking clearly or asking for food.

Note: Growing up I often heard the old folks used to say that people at “death’s door” get better just before they die.

Susan Linnee had not eaten for weeks by the time she entered a Minneapolis hospice on Oct. 5. A 75-year-old editor, she was dying of a brain tumor and as her body weakened, she grew confused and stuporous. But suddenly, 17 days later, she perked up and asked for what her brother, Paul, called “odd food”: dill pickles, liverwurst and seed bread. Relatives fetched the delicacies and she nibbled a few bites. More animated than in previous days, she engaged in lucid conversation. Soon thereafter, she slipped into a barely responsive state and died two weeks later.

In speaking with the medical team, her brother learned that the brief rebound his sister experienced was called an “end-of-life rally.” Palliative care experts say revivals are common, although no one knows exactly why.

“There’s great mystery around this,” said John Mastrojohn, the executive vice president of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. “But everyone who works in the sector has a story.”

Anecdotally, doctors and nurses interviewed for this article said that a striking number of their dying patients had experienced a rally, also known as terminal lucidity. Bounce-backs generally last only a couple hours, but some go on for so long that the patients can take a break from a hospice for a few months. Continue reading “The Mystery of End-of-Life Rallies”

Who does this work?

Northern Death Cult

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Every day I’m involved with people who are receiving end of life care, some of them talk about the issues they are facing and some don’t. I’ve always thought it crucial that in order to be receptive to other people talking about their “stuff” I have an understanding of my stuff and how I got to where I am. I don’t force the deep, existential discussion on people but I don’t shy away from it when it comes up and I don’t change the subject to something safe and socially acceptable like the weather or Brexit.

The Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson, in talking about people who work in EOL care, asked the question, “what is it about these people that they can do this work?”

I don’t think there’s anything special about me in wanting to work with people who are dying, there are lots of fields of work I…

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How scared of death are we – and how does that affect us?

Courtesy of The Independent.com | By Jonathan Jong | Photo by Getty | Originally Published 02.08.2016 | Posted 08.09.2018

Our reluctance to talk about death is often taken as evidence that we are afraid, and therefore suppress thoughts about it

If death is the final taboo, it might not be for much longer. There has, in recent years, been increasing effort to promote conversations about death and dying, both in the home and in more public settings. For example, death cafes, first launched in Switzerland in 2004, have spread around the world, enabling people to speak about their fears over cake and coffee.

Our reluctance to talk about death is often taken as evidence that we are afraid, and therefore suppress thoughts about it. However, there is little direct evidence to support that we are. So what is a “normal” amount of death anxiety? And how does it manifest itself? Continue reading “How scared of death are we – and how does that affect us?”

Body of dead teen, honored with ‘extreme embalming,’ is posed with video games, sunglasses, and snacks

Courtesy of Yahoo!.com | By Elise Sole | Originally Published 09.07.2018 | Posted 08.06.2018

 

A family whose teenage son died honored his memory in an unusual wake: His corpse was positioned in a chair facing a television screen, a video game controller in hand and his favorite snacks next to him.

Renard Matthews, 18, of New Orleans, La., was robbed and shot to death on the evening of June 25 while walking his dog. Matthews, whom a neighbor described as “a nice young man,” loved football and basketball; his favorite athlete was Celtics guard Kyrie Irving, his mother, Temeka, told a local news station, WGNO. On Sunday, his wake presented a faithful reflection of his low-key lifestyle. The family had Matthews embalmed and placed in a stance that was typical for him. He was seated in a chair, wearing an Irving jersey and sunglasses, with a PlayStation controller in his hand, facing a television playing the Celtics. He was flanked by Doritos and soda. Continue reading “Body of dead teen, honored with ‘extreme embalming,’ is posed with video games, sunglasses, and snacks”

What It’s Like to Learn You’re Going to Die

Courtesy of TheAtlantic.com | By Jennie Dear |Photo by Thomas Northcutt/Getty | Originally Published 11.02.2017 | Posted 08.03.2018

Nessa Coyle calls it “the existential slap”—that moment when a dying person first comprehends, on a gut level, that death is close. For many, the realization comes suddenly: “The usual habit of allowing thoughts of death to remain in the background is now impossible,” Coyle, a nurse and palliative-care pioneer, has written. “Death can no longer be denied.

I don’t know exactly when my mother, who eventually died of metastatic breast cancer, encountered her existential crisis. But I have a guess: My parents waited a day after her initial diagnosis before calling my brother, my sister, and me. They reached me first. My father is not a terribly calm man, but he said, very calmly, something to this effect: “Your mother has been diagnosed with breast cancer.” Continue reading “What It’s Like to Learn You’re Going to Die”

Meet the death doulas: the women who stay by your side to the end

Courtesy of The Guardian.com | By Karen McVeigh | Originally Published 02.03.2016 | Posted 08.02.2018

In the upstairs room of Blighty Coffee in north London, two women greet their guests as they file in with cups of tea or glasses of wine. On each table are menus, with delicate morsels of suggested topics for the evening ahead. “What things make for a good death?” reads one. “Can you prepare for death and dying?” says another.

As a joint host of the “death cafe”, a monthly event aimed at breaking taboos on the issue, Caroline Dent tells her 20-strong audience in Finsbury Park of her belief that dying has become “over-medicalised”. “We’ve lost control of one of the most significant events we’ll ever have to face.”

She and her colleague, Liz Wong, are among a tiny but growing number of people in Britain trained as end-of-life or death doulas, a concept akin to traditional childbirth doulas but at a very different time of life.

There are at least 100 end-of-life doulas in Britain, according to Living Well Dying Well (LWDW), an East Sussex-based organisation that trains doulas and has organised the London death cafe’s fifth such event. They are not medical experts, but often work alongside NHS professionals in hospices or in the community to help the dying and their families live their last days as meaningfully and with as much control as possible. Continue reading “Meet the death doulas: the women who stay by your side to the end”

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