Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Goal Setting for the Dying – and the Living

Ryan Jorgensen | Dreamstime.com

Being a cheerleader lets joy
 be a part of life's finish line.
I intentionally left “the rest of the story” out of my last post.  Recall the dying man given perhaps days to live. His family gathered, arrangements made and the goodbyes prepared for.  Days passed…. No death.  The son who lived several hours away had to return home. This brings up an eternal mystery of life and death - time. 

The doctors gave the family a picture of what to expect as the pancreatic cancer overcame their loved one. As the father moved through the stages, the family gained comfort from what seemed the ‘normal’ progression. But what didn’t fit ‘normal’ was the time frame of his actual passing.

The will to live is a powerful influence for all ages, yet its mystery is often most evident in those who are facing their last days. The man given ‘days,’ lived weeks longer than anyone expected. Diagnosed in October, the family had their most meaningful Thanksgiving together… and Christmas. The man’s daughter said that toward the end, he would ask, “Is it Christmas yet?” Clearly, he had a goal.

Sometimes when we know about a person’s goal we can become a part of the joy in reaching it. We do that every day with those close to us. We encourage our children, spouse, and friends to tackle new challenges and reap the rewards. It doesn’t matter what the goal may be, we’re there to encourage. As caregivers, when a loved one has a goal for the end of their lives, the encouragement is much more difficult. We don’t want them to reach that goal. Their goal means our loss. So what is a caregiver to do?

Embrace your loved one’s goal. If it’s “make it through one more Christmas,” try putting some of your anticipatory grief energy into making that celebration the most memorable yet. What are the special memories and traditions that can be revisited? Who else could be brought in to help with the celebration of fully living life? Instead of focusing on this being the ‘last’ holiday or month, or week, look toward making it the best. 

When you refocus your energy on the positive, it doesn’t make your sadness or grief disappear. But it gives you something more positive to direct your mental and emotional energy toward. The thoughts of ‘lasts’ will come, as will tears along the way, but by focusing on increasing the quality of the time, when the end does come, you have an extra bit of grace for your own grieving process. You’ll know you did all you could to make the finish line spectacular. You cheered and provided the support needed to give your loved one that sense of pride in reaching a goal. You've given that person a gift by sharing their goal. You are not cheering your loved one toward death, you’re cheering on your loved one’s desire to make the most of every moment of living.

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