Let The Dying Live!

Painting by Iain Vellacott at www.inoils.com

Painting by Iain Vellacott at www.inoils.wordpress.com

“You’ve got this life and while you’ve got it, you’d better kiss like you only have one moment, try to hold someone’s hand like you will never get another chance to, look into people’s eyes like they’re the last you’ll ever see, watch someone sleeping like there’s no time left, jump if you feel like jumping, run if you feel like running, play music in your head when there is none, and eat cake like it’s the only one left in the world!”
~ C. JoyBell C.

 

This post is the next in my Wednesday series on death and dying…

Many years ago, my friend Pixie was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer. It was caught late because she was breast-feeding, and doctors kept telling her she had mastitis. It was only her continued urging that led to her ultimate diagnosis. Despite using both aggressive traditional and alternative medicine the cancer continued to progress.

With her initial diagnosis and surgery came much attention from friends. But then Pixie’s illness dragged on.

And on.

Friends stopped calling. Family came much less frequently. The immediate crisis had been averted, and other folk went back to their regular lives. Some also stopped visiting or calling because they didn’t know what to say, or what to do. Chronic and terminal illness can be very lonely.

I was also seriously ill. So it was logical that Pixie and I should keep each other company. She would go to my house, or I to hers. We talked a lot about life. We talked a lot about death. Both of us had been given a poor prognosis. Both of us had experienced physicians tell us that we were dying.

Eventually I found a new doctor, and a new regime that seemed to promise better outcomes. My outlook improved. But Pixie continued to decline. Soon she needed a cane to walk. She was frail, and tired easily. She could no longer drive. Her life became an endless round of medical appointments and resting at home.

One morning she rang me. She’d had more bad news. There were no treatment options left for her. Her doctors could only suggest pain management and palliative care. Could I come over for a visit? Yes, I could. (this was back in the days when I was still driving!) Dress up in something pretty, she said. Wear a nice perfume. We are going out!

I drove to her house, and Pixie shuffled to the door to greet me. Instead of her usual dressing gown and slippers she was wearing a pink dress, pearls and flats. She had a scarf tied over her head where only patchy hair had ever regrown. Closing the house door firmly behind her she took my arm. Come on, she said. I’m taking you for coffee!

Are you drinking coffee, I asked, surprised.

I am now, she laughed. And so are you. Today we are ordering like we are living, not dying!

We ventured a short distance to a large local plant nursery that had a gift shop and a cafe attached. Taking my arm, Pixie and I walked slowly through the gardens and rows of plants for sale, and then took a seat in the little cafe. It was still so early that the staff were busy watering the plants and sweeping the paths, ready for the day ahead.

A waiter came and took our order and very quickly two excellent coffees arrived.

Pixie picked up her coffee, inhaled and smiled rapturously. I sipped mine tentatively. It was delicious. Neither of us had drunk coffee for the longest time. It wasn’t on our cure-everything-diets.

We were quiet for a moment, perusing the menus. None of it was the food we’d usually eat. The lemon tart looks amazing, Pixie said. So does the eggs benedict, I added. We got both, with extra side plates so that we could share. Pixie made sure that her lemon tart came with cream and ice-cream.

What’s the occasion, I asked, once the waiter had left with our orders.

I’m sick of dying, Pixie said. I’m still alive. I’ve been alive for ages and I’m going to be alive for a bit longer yet. Hopefully. So I’ve decided to live while I’m alive. Dying is overrated, and it isn’t any fun!

We were both quiet for a moment, sitting with the truth of that.

It is so easy for dying to sneak in and rob the colour and the pleasure from life while you’re still alive.

For the eight months before Pixie became completely bedridden and shifted into that final stage of life we continued to have little outings, or on days when Pixie wasn’t up to a car trip I’d bring the world to her via treats, flowers, conversation and news.

One of our most precious days was when I wheeled her bed out onto their patio so she would feel the dappled sunlight and smell the fresh air of the changing seasons. She could look up through the pergola and see green leaves and flowers. She could see trees. She said it made her feel connected to life in a way that she couldn’t experience from between the white walls of her room.

My dear friend taught me something very important about dying.

Even when you are dying you are still living. That time is precious. There can be so much pleasure and value in it if it is lived and savoured.

So, if you, or someone you know has a chronic or terminal illness, think about how to have more shared experiences of living. This goes for people who are aging too!

Take Pixie’s hard-earned wisdom and let it shape your life. Celebrate and live life. For yourself and for your loved ones. Let the dying live. Help them to live while they are still alive. It will enrich life for both of you.

Sending so much love your way, Nicole ❤ xx

 

Supporting Your Loved One at the End Stage of Life

“And then we ease him out of that worn-out body with a kiss, and he’s gone like a whisper, the easiest breath.”
~ Mark Doty

 

Welcome to the second post in my Wednesday series on death and dying.

Today I’d like to talk about the end stage of life, and what you might expect as a loved one or carer. Death is something we have become less familiar with in our modern, western world. Most of us are quite removed from the process of dying, and of being with the dead after death has occurred.

I’ve been privileged to sit with and support over thirty people now as they transitioned from this world and this has taught me a great deal about the process of the letting go of our physical bodies.

I have learned that we each die in our own way, and in our own time. Someone who dies quickly, as a result of an accident or sudden illness will have a different journey to someone who is dying slowly – such as might happen with a terminal illness or old age.
The only thing that’s ever important is to help the dying person to be as comfortable as possible, to touch and reassure them, and to be with them. Love and care is what matters.
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The physical aspects of dying:
As a person enters this last stage they gradually begin to withdraw from the activities of daily life, even things that once held interest for them. They begin to sleep more. Conversation often becomes taxing. Appetite decreases and then leaves. There is simply less energy as the body begins to slow down and then shut down. They will become less responsive to your touch. Less responsive to your voice. Even in the middle of all of this the dying person may rally and be more ‘with it’ for periods of time. They may engage with you, or regain a little appetite. These windows of clarity and strength are quite normal. But they are windows. Please do not raise your hopes that this is a sign of some dramatic turn-around.
I have seen a woman who had been unresponsive for days suddenly become alert and sit up in bed for a final conversation with her brother, who had travelled for two days from across the globe to be at her bedside. She died shortly after, peacefully and easily.
The morning before my grandmother Marga’s death she was suddenly hungry, after days with little or no food or liquid. She ate one last meal of a few small mouthfuls of soft food – a soup, a little of some lamb roast and vegetables, followed by stewed apple and custard. She enjoyed it immensely, telling us over and over again that it was good. Food had always been one of my grandmother’s great pleasures. Then she talked with my mother and sister and I for an hour or so, breathless and fragile as she was, to tell us that she was surprised to still be ‘here’ and alive. She had been sure she was ‘almost gone’. A day later, she was.
As a person moves towards death their digestion closes down, swallowing becomes difficult, bowel and bladder function changes and slows (there can be loss of bowel and bladder function), and eventually they will only want just a sip of water, or a sponge soaked in a soothing liquid to moisten the mouth and lips. You can also use a balm to keep the lips moist. The body no longer needs nourishment. This is normal, and part of the withdrawal process.
The eyes become heavy lidded, or may stay half-open. The mouth might gape open too. Everything is relaxing and letting go. Your loved one’s skin tone will change. They may become mottled. They may become more pale, more ashen, more waxen. They may become momentarily hotter, or colder. Their skin may feel much cooler to the touch. Your loved one may look much less like themselves.
Closer to death the breathing becomes laboured and the mucous thickens, which can create congestion in the airways or mouth. Breathing can become noisy, and a rattling noise is quite common. This is often referred to as the death rattle, and is an indication that the end of life is very near. Breathing will become erratic, until a breath is taken only every so often. Eventually breathing will cease. This can take some time. It is not painful for the dying person, but it may sound scary or distressing to friends and family who have not been with a dying person before.
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On a metaphysical level:
 As your loved one moves closer to dying they move in and out of a place where they can feel, see, hear and connect with souls who have already crossed over. This is a very comforting and reassuring space. I have heard some doctors and nurses pass this phenomena off as ‘hallucinations’, but as a psychic, I know this is not true. (More information on this, and on people with dementia and alzheimers here.)
Some people use the end of their life, over weeks or days, as a time of review. In their dreams, in their mind, in their inner journey they go back to people and places long since gone, to make sense of what has happened, or to make peace with what has gone before. While they are doing this they will seem to be sleeping most of the time, or rambling in their thoughts and words. Please support and love them as they journey. Don’t try to criticize, correct or judge them, or tell them that what they are experiencing isn’t real. For them it is, and it is an important and healing part of their journey.
The act of death itself is simply a shedding of the skin, and a return to another way of existing. The act of dying and the transition back to being ‘a soul’ is always, in the end, a joyful and love-filled one.
Metaphysically you can help by sending love and light to the dying person. Feel the love move from your heart to theirs. Surround them with white light, or whatever other colour feels good to you. You can also call upon God (or whatever you know that energy as), your loved one’s guides, angels and others who have already crossed over (such as family members or friends) – to come and support and guide your loved one for this final part of their journey. Tell them that it’s okay, and that they can go whenever they are ready. Remind them of the great love that is here on earth for them, and that will greet them where they are going next.
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What can you do to support your loved one?

Simply, just be with them. Hold their hand, sit in their space, touch them and let them feel you near them. You might want to stroke their hair, or press a cool, damp cloth to their forehead and arms. Moisten their mouth for them. Rearrange their pillows. You might want to massage some cream into their skin or brush their hair. 

Talk with them, even if you think they can’t hear you. They can. Please keep talking when it feels right –  even when someone is in their final hours and are non-responsive they hear you. Speak quietly and soothingly. No abrupt noises or movements, and keep the room lighting soft so that the person doesn’t startle.

It’s okay to cry and show emotion. It’s also very normal to laugh and to reminisce. There is often no need for words at all.

Do tell your loved one that you love them. Let them know you are there. Let them know you care.

If it feels right to talk, share some happy memories. Talk about things you have shared together over the years. Tell them about the things you learned from them. What have they passed on to you? Why are you a better person because of them? What can you acknowledge about them that you respect or admire?

Tell them about yourself. Share your life. If there are issues between you say what needs to be said with a spirit of forgiveness and kindness.

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Even when we have had a difficult relationship with someone it helps both people to be able to find something that you can share which helps the dying person to feel that their life had purpose and that somehow, in some small way they were loved, made a difference or were noticed in a positive way. We all need to know that we matter.

It’s also enough just to be in their space, just to sit with them, just to be by their side. Read a book, curl up beside them, it doesn’t matter what you do – it matters that you are there.

It’s okay to say goodbye. Whether yours will be a short visit, or a long period of support, saying goodbye is a soothing and healing thing to do, for both of you, no matter how hard that goodbye might be.

Let your loved one know that it’s okay for them to go. Reassure them. Sometimes they will linger, hanging on for you. I’ve seen many a person pass after their loved ones have left the room. It’s okay to let your loved one know that you are leaving the room. It might be what they need to finally let go.

Above all, ensure that your loved one is comfortable. There is no need for anyone to be in pain, and there are so many options to help you and your loved one manage this final transition so that dying and death are pain-free.

Make sure you look after yourself in all of this too. Take a break if you need one. Ask for help. Call on doctors, nurses and care-givers. Step away when it gets too much. Remember to eat, and to get enough sleep.

If you would like to use essential oils, I have found Young Living’s Peace and Calming soothing for everyone in the room. Place a drop on the back of the hands or the inside of the wrists of your loved one, and a drop on the chest or the back of the neck. A little on the edge of the ear is good too. If you don’t have this oil Lavender essential oil will do nicely.

If there is distress in your loved one (or yourself) use Lavender and Frankincense. Apply a drop of each of these at the wrists, temples, back of neck, throat, heart, and soles of feet.

Yes, you can use all three of these oils together.

Use these oils hourly, or follow your intuition. They can truly transform a situation, and help bring peace and comfort at what can be an emotional and difficult time for everyone in the room. I used this combination when my friend Angela passed over last year, and the difference they made – for Ange, for her loved ones, and for the nursing staff – was truly remarkable.

The combination of Lavender and Frankincense also helps the soul to let go.

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I truly believe that death is not the end of our being.  I know that love endures. I am looking forward to sharing more of what I know of this journey, and I’m sure you will find it comforting.

Thanks for reading. Next week I’ll be talking about sitting with a person after they die, and what happens in these moments after death for the person who died. If you have any questions you’d like me to cover in this series, please contact me here on the blog or at cauldronsandcupcakes@gmail.com

Wherever you are, go in peace today, and know that you are in my thoughts, prayers and meditations. I’m wishing you well. I’m sending you love,

Nicole ❤ xoxo

 

 

Cancer, Coffee and Community

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“My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you. But for every real word spoken, for every attempt I had ever made to speak those truths for which I am still seeking, I had made contact with other women while we examined the words to fit a world in which we all believed, bridging our differences.”
~ Audre Lorde, The Cancer Journals

 

If there’s one thing that my husband Ben and I have become very experienced with, it’s living with dire medical prognoses and chronic illness. We know what it’s like to live with a shadow hanging over you, with death lurking around the corner, and to have a private life that few other people understand. We know what it is to cling to hope, and to try absolutely every option in order to keep living.

Fortunately for me, after years and years of bad news, I have turned a corner again. Just as I have a number of times when I’ve been given rotten news and short time-frames for life expectancy.

Now, sadly, dear friends of ours are on a similar journey. The wife has stage four metastatic breast cancer. They are trying everything they can, but it’s a hard battle, and an emotionally exhausting one. We’ve been supporting them as best we can, and passing on our tips for everything from shower chairs and toilet chairs to oxygen machines and incontinence pants. Getting wills in order, having an enduring medical power of attorney, notifying your spouse about your wishes in the event of a catastrophic health event, DNR forms (do not resuscitate), hiring medical equipment, diet and therapy successes  – all the things we have had to deal with during my own illnesses, and which we are now sharing with our friends.

The wife is in hospital receiving pain management palliative care right now, so we met her husband at a local cafe yesterday.

It was early when we got there, and I thought perhaps we might sit at a table far away from the main cafe, to have some privacy. But Ben had other ideas. ‘We always sit at the main table,” he said, “so we will today too. Our mate will be fine. It will be good for him to talk about normal things.”

We chatted with some of the other locals before our friend arrived, and then introduced him to our regular coffee mates. The talk turned to football – Australia has several grand finals this weekend. Over excellent coffee we hashed the weekend sport, politics, and all things farming.

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Our local friends turned to speak to some new-comers and finally on our own we discussed our friend’s wife, and how she was doing. They have a meeting with her main oncologist next week to get a treatment plan. And they have a whole team of doctors and natural therapists onside too.

“Make sure you take a notebook and write everything down,” one of the local farmers at our table quietly added.

We all looked over to him. “You’ll never remember it all,” he continued. “Don’t be intimidated by the doctors. Ask them to explain anything you don’t understand. Ask lots of questions. Write everything down. That’s what my wife used to do.” He cleared his throat. “I hope you don’t mind me joining the conversation,” the farmer said. “I have a bit of experience here.”

Over the next hour we talked cancer, treatments, doctors, and staying sane in difficult times.

“Just know that you’re never alone, mate,” the farmer said to our friend as we left. “Heaps of us have been through this, and there’s always going to be someone you can talk to, or who can help you. All you have to do is reach out and ask. Don’t sit on this. Don’t stay silent. You need your friends. You need your community. We all have to be here for each other.”

Who’d have thought that a simple breakfast at a local cafe would prove to be so nourishing?

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Time With Julie, Crafting Dying Her Way

“Nothing is ever really lost to us as long as we remember it.” 
~ L.M. Montgomery, The Story Girl

 

Perhaps you read my post a few days ago, about my friend Julie who has been given a diagnosis of mere weeks to live due to end-stage inoperable ovarian cancer. No-one knows if she’ll have three months, less, or longer, but we do know that her remaining time is short. Precious, short and non-renewable.

We’ve talked a lot in the past few days. A lot! And in that time on the crazy roller-coaster ride of shock, denial, anger, grief and acceptance some big decisions have been made.

Truth is, Julie really is dying. This is the end game for her. There will be no miracle cure or last-minute reprieve. She understands that, and always the pragmatist, she’s been working out how she wants these weeks to look for her and her family. It is not chasing some possible cure in some remote part of the world, or filling herself with pills, tonics or juice fasts. Julie wants to spend her last weeks with the people she loves, to live life doing things that give her pleasure and that fill her up with love and gratitude, and to die a good death. One that is peaceful and without pain or trauma.

Day One after her diagnosis we began to get some care options in place and attended to all the legal stuff. Her mum, an ex-nurse who will be Julie’s primary carer, has spoken with the oncologist about what to expect, and contacted a local hospice for help and guidance, including the equipment and medications needed for home care. Julie will spend her last days back at the family property outside Brisbane, surrounded by nature, family and friends. There are still good places to go for coffee, and for tasty meals to be had if she feels like an outing. But there is also the comfort of familiar surroundings. Julie was clear – no hospitals.

She’s taken sick leave from work, checked all her insurances and contacted all the appropriate people. She spoke with her husband and then updated her will, and nominated a medical Power of Attorney. We’ve found some good counsellors for the family to help with this time of transition.

We’ve spoken to people about spiritual care for Julie and her family for this final part of her journey here on earth.

All of these things help Julie to have a sense of peace and control at a time when so many things are being stripped away from her.

Day Two we went shopping; for stationery, scrapbooking supplies, a decent photo printer and some journals.

Why? Julie has two little girls, aged three and six. Daughters she adores. Daughters she will never get to see grow up. Another of my friends lost her own mum when she was five, has many unanswered questions because of that loss, and has had many times when she’s wished for advice or support from the mum she never really knew.

Image from Dr Momma

Image from Dr Momma

Julie wants her loved ones to feel her love, support, guidance and encouragement – even if she cannot be here in person to give it.

So we’ve made a plan:

  • Scrapbooks for each girl, to celebrate their time together, and for Julie to leave messages of love and support. Julie’s mum and sister love to scrapbook, and they have promised to help with this task, pouring all of their love into these albums
  • Letters from Julie to be given to the girls and her other significant loved ones for important milestones in their lives
  • Video messages for some of those same milestones (and believe me we brainstormed many possibilities, including the hard and sad parts of life as well as the usual celebrations) She’s recorded the first few already.
  • A journal that documents Julie’s life, from her own childhood to the present day. This is a project just for Julie, to do in her quiet hours and until she can no longer write entries for herself. This is a place where she can glue pictures, talk about who is in the photo, what they were doing, and what that meant for her. A place that records Julie the way Julie knows herself and her interior world – as a person, not just as a mother, or a wife.

Day Three and Julie and her family began a whole weekend together, sleeping in, watching DVDs, baking cupcakes and reading stories. No work, no deadlines, no emails to answer or calls to return, no papers to write. Instead there will be lots of cuddles, snuggles and love. Some time to think about a bucket list. Some time to cocoon from the world for a while.

For now her pain and fatigue are manageable, and she can still live independently and with quality of life. We’ll reassess as things change.

Help is there for Julie and her family as they walk this part of the journey together. So much of it will simply unfold as it needs to. And of course, Julie has her plan of things to leave behind for those she loves. This is so important to her, it’s her last and most important project – and I know it will help with closure for her too.

In the next few weeks Julie also wants to take one last shopping trip, for a few special items for her loved ones.

She wants wine, cheese and chocolate with her best girlfriends – soon, while she still feels like getting dressed up and going out.

She’s got a romantic weekend getaway booked with her husband for next weekend.

She is going to plan her own funeral, with help from her husband, daughters, mum and good friends. She wants to go to that life celebration in person. She says it seems pointless to miss her own, best party.

My friend does not know how many good days she has left, but she wants to make the most of her time on this earth.

That’s a good lesson for all of us, don’t you think?

Image from Words on Images

Image from Words on Images

Reality Check – A Reminder of What Really Matters

Image from Mummy Quotes

Image from Mummy Quotes

“Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important.” 
~ Stephen R. Covey

 

I have a beautiful girlfriend who is the ultimate career woman. She has worked for the same corporation for 25 years, starting at the very bottom and working her way up. She is one of those women who has climbed the ladder and broken through the glass ceiling. For twenty five years she has devoted herself to this organisation, and enjoyed a meteoric rise. She’s a stunning project manager, and she gets things done. They always call on her in a crisis. There is always a crisis. She works insane hours, lives and breathes company business, and is paid accordingly.

In the middle of this she has managed to complete a degree, an MBA, and to marry and have two children. She always wanted to have children but by the time she and her husband started trying for babies in her late thirties, pregnancy just wasn’t happening. She has two beautiful daughters, aged 3 and 6, both from IVF, which was a long and difficult process. It took many attempts to bring those little girls into the world.

No, this is not a post about leaving babies til the last minute.

It’s a post about leaving life til the last minute.

You see, my friend sent me a frantic text yesterday morning, and then called me as soon as she knew I was awake.

I haven’t seen her for a couple of years. You know how things are when people get busy.

She had news. The worst kind. She’s been diagnosed with aggressive and advanced ovarian cancer. It’s inoperable. They think she may have twelve weeks to live, give or take. There’s no time left for treatment. Only for palliative care.

She started losing weight eighteen months ago and put it down to stress. But secretly she was also thrilled. She had put on plenty of weight during each of her pregnancies and had never been able to get it back off again. Still, her tummy stayed round and bloated.

She hasn’t felt her best since the babies were born. But that’s normal for busy mums, isn’t it? Anyway, she always said to me that she was too busy to have the luxury of a sick day.

My friend left it so long to do something about the pelvic pain, the back aches, the bladder leaks, the fatigue, that when she finally made the time to see a doctor it was all too late. She is riddled with cancer. It’s in her bowel, her brain, her liver, her lungs, her bones. Everywhere.

What should she do, my friend asked me. She has recently moved her husband, two little children and their nanny to yet another new city while she works on a difficult merger. They haven’t really settled in yet. She began to tell me all about the work…

Screw the work, I said. Come home. Come home to your family and your husband’s family. Come home to the people who love you, and who can take care of you all. Forget the responsibilities. Now is the time to focus on what truly matters. Living. Loving. Drinking up every last moment. Creating the best kinds of memories. Gifting yourself and your loved ones the time you have left.

She kept crying, over and over, I thought I’d have more time. God, it almost undid me.

All her working life my friend has put things to one side; holidays, celebrations, lazy Sundays, time out with family and friends, because she though that one day she’d be in a magical place where there was plenty of time, and plenty of money and plenty of life left to enjoy all those good things.

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Life is so short. So precious. None of us ever really know how much time we have.

Oh, it breaks my heart, dear ones. It just breaks my heart.

I’m going to take a few days off blogging, while I support my friend through this next part of her journey.

Please, look after yourselves. Look after your health and your loved ones. Work out what matters and spend time on those relationships and activities. It’s the journey, as much as the destination. You know that, don’t you?

That great behemoth of a corporation my friend works for will get by just fine without her. She might not have realised it, but she is expendable to them, although I’m sure they’ll miss her, and her talents.

Her husband and kids? I’m sure they can’t say the same.

My friend, ever the one to seek productive outcomes from any situation, asked me to write this post. She hoped it may serve as a reality check for people like her, who’ve strayed too far from what really counts.

Will you hold her and her family in your thoughts and prayers? Her name’s Julie, and she sure could use a little extra love and light right now.

Thank you.

Image from Paper Masters

Image from Paper Masters