DEATH AND DYING, A CONVERSATION AMONG MEDICAL PROFESSIONALS

Understanding our own mortality

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross (1975) states that “We cannot give loving and caring support to dying persons and their loved ones until we have faced our own death and mortality within the depths of our being.” (Miriam Jacik 1989, 257) See “A look at death and dying” questionnaire.

Addressing our personal beliefs and experiences of loss and death.

  • What losses have you experienced in your life? (a pet, a friend moving away, loss of extended family, loss of family of origin member, loss of present family, loss of significant job, loss of home, divorce, loss of physical functioning, etc.)

What were you taught about death as a child? Was death something to be feared? Was it a secret not to be spoken of? How were the dead spoken of? Was fear connected with death?

“A person’s faith and religious belief system are often a strong source of support during illness and in the face of death. It behooves the [medical professional] to honor this reality not only in his or her own personal life but also in the patient’s life. One does not have to share the same religious affiliation to be able to understand and accept another’s spiritual orientation.” (Jacik 262)

  • How then, are we to have this conversation? Recognizing that we have already been called to consider our own thoughts and feelings regarding death, our own and more generally, how do we engage with others?

“It is important to believe that one person can help another die well, much as one would have helped another to live well….human life is temporary… human beings are mortal… the journey through life is transient.” (Jacik 263)

A statement that describes what motivates the ministry that I do.

“Healthcare professionals, being part of a society that fears, avoids, and denies death, share the same fears and attitudes about death as those they are called to serve. Overcoming such negative attitudes about death requires a personal struggle with the issues of our own mortality, reflection on our personal fears of dying, and being in touch with or formulating our personal philosophy of life. The latter entails the topics of introspection that all people face: the meaning and purpose of life, the meaning of suffering and death, personal beliefs about God or some higher being, the place of God in one’s life, the hereafter, the forms of religious expression one uses, and one’s religious belief system.” (Jacik 257)

Jacik, Miriam. “Spiritual Care of the Dying Adult.” In Carson, Verna Benner. Spiritual Dimensions of Nursing Practice (Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders 1989)

Consider also the work of

Dr. Ira Byock, MD, Chair, Palliative Medicine, Dartmouth Medical School  – www.dyingwell.org

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