TEN WAYS CAREGIVERS CAN HELP A TERMINAL PATIENT DIE WITHOUT FEAR
Helping someone die is hard, messy, exhausting work, but when you take it on
wholeheartedly, you can give your patient an incredible final gift. Patt Lind-Kyle offers
some tools and tactics for helping them stop resisting and embrace death.
NEVADA CITY, CA (April 2018)–Being a caregiver for a terminally ill person is a complex undertaking. In fact, it’s a job with many layers. On the surface, most visibly, you’re meeting the patient’s daily clinical needs–counting out pills, spooning in food, pushing the wheelchair. Deeper down, you’re giving emotional comfort and helping them process grief and fear. Finally, underlying all else, you’re wrangling the elephant in the room: You’re helping the person prepare for and embrace their death.
Author Patt Lind-Kyle says all of these tasks matter. But it’s this last, deepest layer of caregiving that’s the richest and most rewarding for both parties.
“Most people have a huge wall of fear and resistance built up around their death,” says Lind-Kyle, author of _Embracing the End of Life: A Journey into Dying & Awakening_ (Llewellyn Publications, 2017, ISBN: 978-0-738-75356-0, $22.99). “That wall needs to be dismantled so the person can accept death and die in peace.
“Ideally, people would do the work to release this fear earlier in their lives, but, sadly, that rarely happens,” she adds. “And so, very often the dying person needs you, the caregiver, to help them stop resisting, let go, and embrace death. It is your final gift to them.”
Whether you’re a professional caregiver or a loved one caring for a dying family member or friend, these tips can help you offer your patient a peaceful, mindful, even joyful passage:
TALK OPENLY ABOUT DEATH. When someone is terminally ill, most people around them are reluctant to acknowledge death. They’ll pretend it is not happening. And often, the dying person will follow their lead and avoid any discussion of death. So don’t shy away from the subject. In fact, ask the patient about the emotions and uncertainties they may be feeling. Ask about their spiritual beliefs if they seem open to it. Let them talk, even if what they have to say upsets you. Ask what they need from you, and try to give it to them wholeheartedly.
DIRECTLY ASK THE PATIENT, “HOW DO YOU WANT TO DIE?” Urge the patient to think about and share their wishes for how they would like to die when the time comes. Do they want to die at home? Do they want certain people in the room? Would they like music to be playing or spoken prayers? Reassure the patient that you will make it happen just the way they want.
HELP THEM FORGIVE, SEEK FORGIVENESS, AND FIND CLOSURE. Dying people often prolong their own death because they have unfinished business on earth. Gently remind your patient of the peace brought by forgiveness and encourage them to bring closure to any lingering conflicts or hurts they may be holding on to. Offer to contact estranged family members or others with whom the patient needs to mend fences. Offer to write a letter that the patient dictates to you.
“Don’t worry that you’re overstepping,” says Lind-Kyle. “Don’t push or nag, but offer to help in any way you can. So often people have things they want to say before they die. They just need someone to help them figure out how.”
GIVE THEM TOOLS TO HELP BREAK THEIR OBSESSIVE THOUGHT PATTERNS. Terminally ill people tend to ruminate on their upcoming death. They get caught in fretful, fearful thought patterns that take hold and generate spiritual and emotional suffering. Lind-Kyle says affirmations can help the patient break these patterns now and later on, as death approaches.
Teach them one or two affirmations–“Death is not my enemy. Death is a doorway of continuing life,” or, “I accept things as they are and I am free of fear”–and urge them to repeat them anytime they think about death. You can even write them down and keep them by the patient’s bed. (NOTE: SEE TOOL #1 IN ATTACHED TIPSHEET.)
GIVE THEM SOMETHING TO APPRECIATE. The practice of _appreciation _keeps a dying person focused on the moment and thus out of the fear of death. Unfortunately, being in a hospital bed, surrounded by pill bottles and the mindless drone of TV doesn’t give much to appreciate, and it’s easy to fall into fearful death-obsessed thought patterns. As a caregiver, you help patients stay in the present by offering them things to appreciate.
“You could bring in a therapy dog to snuggle with the patient,” she suggests. “You could diffuse essentials oils they like or play their favorite music. You could work on a puzzle together or give them a beautiful adult coloring book. If they’re feeling well enough, take them on a walk outside to enjoy nature or even bring in a massage therapist. The more sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and sensations they have to appreciate, the less likely they are to worry about dying.”
(NOTE: SEE TOOL #2 IN ATTACHED TIPSHEET.)
TEACH THEM (AND YOURSELF) TO MEDITATE. A daily meditation practice trains you to release and let go of your constricted self. On a practical level, it trains the mind to let go of the busy resistances of daily life. When you’re in the dying process, meditation prepares you to relax, stabilizes your mind, opens you to compassion, and creates a dynamic shift that reduces your anxiety and fear.
“Encourage the patient to meditate by using their breath, a mantra, or a chant that repeats over and over to help them let go of the mental world,” says Lind-Kyle. “This creates a growing sense of expansion beyond the boundaries of the body. You might offer them a CD or video of guided meditation practices, or volunteer to lead them through a guided meditation yourself.
“If you, the caregiver, don’t already meditate, I highly encourage you to do so,” she adds. “It really does give you a different perspective on living and dying. It will help you with your own well-being, and, frankly, as a caregiver, you will need all the support you can get.”
HELP THEM THINK ABOUT PAIN IN A DIFFERENT WAY. Lind-Kyle says that pain is part of the daily drama of being a human. We view pain as terribly upsetting, something to be avoided at all costs. Of course, no one wants to (nor should have to) experience severe pain. That’s what medication is for. But there are also benefits to facing less extreme bouts of pain head on, rather than trying to deny and resist it.
“Pain has a transient nature; it is always changing,” says Lind-Kyle. “Caregivers can help their patients consider the notion that the courage to face pain consciously may actually be a gift of patience, a development of strength to endure when needed, a means to help nourish compassion, and a deeper capacity to open to gratitude and the insight that life is fragile and precious.
“There are also exercises and meditations that can help your patient face and release pain,” she adds. “It can be immensely helpful when a caregiver shares a recording of such a meditation or perhaps reads it out loud.” (NOTE: SEE TOOL #3 IN ATTACHED TIPSHEET.)
URGE FAMILY AND FRIENDS TO ARM THEMSELVES WITH MEMORIES. Encourage visitors to share stories with the patient from their lives together. It can be very gratifying to the patient to relive joyous moments from their lives, and it also helps family members and friends connect with their loved one in an authentic way. Ask friends and family members to gather photos, photo albums, old letters, or other keepsakes to bring with them that will spark memories for the patient.
“This is especially important in the last days or hours, when loved ones are gathered around to say their goodbyes,” says Lind-Kyle. “Being prepared with physical objects like photos or letters will spark meaningful conversations. It gives people something to talk about. Otherwise, they may struggle for words or just sit and cry.”
PROVIDE MUSIC, SPOKEN PRAYERS, OR SELECTED READINGS DURING THE DYING PROCESS. “Hearing is the last of the five senses to leave the body,” says Lind-Kyle. “Therefore, it’s helpful to offer spoken prayers, affirmations, readings, or music to reassure the patient that they are not alone during their dying moments. If family or friends are present, they too can participate.”
Here are some things you can do that may comfort a patient who is dying:
* Offer spoken meditations or prayers
* Have music such as instrumentals, songs, or chants playing in the background
* Read a passage from a book
* Ask someone in the room to sing or play music
* Allow a loved one to tell stories about the patient’s life
* Play recorded nature sounds like ocean waves, birds, or rain
“MANAGE” THE ENVIRONMENT WHEN DEATH IS NEAR. When the patient is actively dying, it is your responsibility to help them remain calm and peaceful. This often means doing the delicate work of managing the other people in the room. It is understandable that tension and disruptions may happen during this time, but let visitors know that they will need to leave the room if they cannot control their emotions or disturb the peace in any way. Quietly escort anyone outside until they can regain their composure and contribute to a quiet, serene atmosphere.
Being fully present and engaged during a person’s once-in-a-lifetime passage into transcendence is a gift that goes both ways, says Lind-Kyle. Yes, you are helping ease the patient’s transition. But you’re also getting a front-row seat for the journey that you, yourself, will one day embark upon–and there’s much to learn from that.
“Don’t waste this opportunity to ask yourself, How do I want to be cared for when my time comes?” she says. “How do I want to die? And keeping in mind that we die the way we live, how do I want to live–today–starting now? Most people avoid these questions and they shouldn’t. Asking them, and answering them, allows you to create a life of joy, connection, and true peace, from today until you draw your final breath.”
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THREE POWERFUL TOOLS TO SHARE WITH A TERMINALLY ILL PATIENT
Excerpted from Embracing the End of Life: A Journey into Dying & Awakening
(Llewellyn Publications, 2017, ISBN: 978-0-738-75356-0, $22.99) by Patt Lind-Kyle
Dying from a terminal illness can be a lonely and fear-driven journey, especially if you’ve never consciously faced your own mortality. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Author Patt Lind-Kyle says caregivers can help patients prepare for a peaceful and even joyful death by teaching them how to release their conscious and unconscious fears. Here are three powerful exercises from Embracing the End of Life to share with your patient:
TOOL 1: AFFIRMATIONS FOR LETTING GO AND PREPARING FOR DEATH. Lind-Kyle emphasizes the importance of changing one’s thought patterns to help release resistance at the end of life. Affirmations are powerful tools that can release obsessive thought patterns and alleviate the fear of death. Urge your patient to follow this routine anytime they think about dying. Have them take a few deep breaths to settle their mind and body, and then instruct them to say the following affirmative phrases silently or out loud:
* I am open to forgiveness and to my love flowing boundlessly in me.
* I find the inner resources to be able to let go of my body.
* I find the inner resources to let go of my emotions and my mind.
* Death is not my enemy. Death is a doorway of continuing life.
* My life is changing and I am open to my death.
* I accept things as they are and I am free of fear.
TOOL 2: APPRECIATION PRACTICE. Appreciation trains a reactive mind to stay focused in the present moment and releases the attachment to your emotional reactions of fear and being a prisoner to time. The energy charge of appreciation activates the feeling state within you and shifts your moods, attitudes, and beliefs.
Here is an exercise you can offer your patients to help them practice appreciation any time they feel fearful or need to focus on the present moment.
* Look for people to whom, and situations for which, you can express your appreciation. Speak out loud your appreciation for people’s efforts: “Thank you for spending so much time helping my son understand this math concept.” Or, “I really appreciated hearing the live music; it sounded great and made our dinner a really fun experience.” You can even say out loud to companions, or just to God or the Universe: “I really appreciate this glorious sunset.”
* As you speak your appreciation, feel the energy speaking from your heart.
* If you find you are focused on judging someone, shift your focus and look for something you can appreciate in them instead. This will build your energy rather than lower it.
* Keep the appreciation going throughout the day. The more you appreciate, the more the positive energy will increase the clarity of your awareness of the moment.
* Practice all of the above for two to three weeks and you will find your perception and your awareness have changed.
TOOL 3: CONFRONTING PAIN EXERCISE. Either prerecord the following exercise to play for your patient or read it to them aloud whenever they are in pain. Give sufficient pauses between each statement.
* Close your eyes, take several deep breaths, and consciously take some time to relax your body.
* Remember a time when you were in pain. The pain can be physical or emotional. Imagine now that you are in an intense state of discomfort and pain. Imagine letting yourself be present and simply observing this situation of your pain.
* Look through and beyond the pain of wanting it to be different and of struggling to push the pain away. Without wanting it to be different, simply acknowledge that you feel and have pain.
* Move your attention to your heart area. Feel the warmth, pulsating, caring, and comforting feeling radiating through your body’s pain. As you stay centered in your heart, affirm and say to yourself, My True Mind nature is free from all the pain.
* Breathe into the heaviness of the pain with this affirming heart and exhale the cool light air out of your heart into your body. Continue with this pattern of breathing into the heaviness and breathing out lightness.
* Be present with this pain. Imagine you are breathing through all the pores of your body.
* Watch the pain shift, move, and dissolve. Be conscious of the inner peace and gratitude for the fact that you can be with pain and move beyond pain. Rest in this peace.
* Open your eyes and move your body when you are ready to do so.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Patt Lind-Kyle, MA, is the author of _Embracing the End of Life: A Journey into Dying & Awakening_, and is a teacher, therapist, speaker, and consultant. Her book Heal Your Mind, Rewire Your Brain won the Independent Publisher Gold Medal Award and a Best Book Award from _USA Book News_. Patt has written a chapter in Audacious Aging, and she is also the author of When Sleeping Beauty Wakes Up. She lives in Nevada City, CA, and can be found online at www.PattLindKyle.com.
ABOUT THE BOOK:
Embracing the End of Life: A Journey into Dying & Awakening(Llewellyn Publications, 2017, ISBN: 978-0-738-75356-0, $22.99) is available at bookstores nationwide, Amazon.com, and BarnesAndNoble.com.