My Response To A Client When Asked About Talking End Of Life

I have a client who’s wife is dying.  It is hard on my client because the wife has dementia.  He asked me “how do I talk to her about dying?”  Here is my response.  Names are changed.

“I want to thank you for asking me to give my thoughts on this difficult issue. I know how heart wrenching this can be.

While I was skiing, I found myself thinking about how to speak with Anne about end of life and if it is possible for her to understand.  I wanted to share with you that many years ago, I had a near death experience. I was very sick and the doctors told my husband to call my family because I was not going to make it. However, I defied the odds and did pull through. During that time I hovered between life and death. What I remember most was the feelings of love from my family, friends and caregivers. It was tangible to me. The words didn’t register or have meaning.

I was wondering if you have had any conversations in the past about death with Anne before she became ill? What might be her thoughts? If so, that would be a starting place. I am sure that Anne has had the thoughts of her own death. In her moments of clarity, you could start by asking her if she knows what is happening to her? She may tell you she is dying. She will probably forget after.

For me, the most important words to be spoken to Anne, are that you will be with her on this journey. She will not be alone. She will be surrounded by your love. She doesn’t need to be afraid because you will be there.

If she at some point, asks about the dying process, I think it would be good for myself or a Chaplain to speak with her in your presence. In the end, there is no right or wrong in how you speak with Anne. Trust you instincts and love for her and it will be perfect. We will support you 100%.

I hope this helps.”

When I first received the email, I wasn’t sure how to answer it.  I have my own personal feelings about death and dying and I didn’t want to impose those on someone else.  I knew this client didn’t have a religious practice so talking in that way would not have been helpful.   What I do know is how hard it is to speak of.  The words don’t come easy.  I also know it can’t be intellectualized.  There is no exact road map.  We are on our own.

I like to give people the opportunity to talk about it.  People have questions and sometimes they are afraid to ask.  Our medical system so wants to provide people with life saving treatments.  That attitude can make people feel as if they have failed when the topic of death and dying is broached.

My thought is, let the journey of death and dying be blazed by grace and dignity no matter what path is taken to get there.