Last week I asked the question – what would you do if you had limited time to live? Today, I ask how would you relate with someone who you know has little or limited time to live? What will you say to and/or how will you behave towards a spouse, child, sibling, parent, friend or acquaintance who has a terminal disease?
Do you ignore the fact and behave as if everything is normal while reassuring them that they will live and that they must remain positive against all odds or do you look at them with pity and sorrow every time you go visiting till they tell you not to come back again or do you take the bull by the horn and help them plan their last days and the future they wouldn’t see?
We are a very religious people and a lot of us (even the terminally sick) think that we invite death if we think , plan or prepare for it even though it is an inevitable part of us. That’s why we don’t write wills or plan for what will happen after we are gone.
It is interesting that Jesus who we Christians follow talked about his death freely and even rebuked Peter when he objected to the news of his “untimely death.”
I agree that it can be a very awkward conversation to have with anyone no matter how close they are because coming face to face with one’s mortality is not something anyone desires to confront. I have known a few people who were knocking on heaven’s door. Some, I said absolutely nothing about death to them because of their personality and disposition coupled with the fact that we were not so close. A few others, l asked boldly what they had done in preparation for their demise and what they wanted done when the time came.
One thing is sure in my mind, the terminally ill people know within themselves that time is limited. Some of them don’t admit it to themselves and for people like that we cannot force them to face what they are not ready to face. Some want to face their fears but are afraid of voicing them mainly because people may think they are morbid or that they have given up on living. Some face their fears but when they speak of them to us, we either down play their fears or tell them they can’t do what they want to do but should rather save their strength for their recovery.
We are all different and a lot of us are adherents of the saying “what you don’t know wouldn’t hurt you” For people like that, it’s best to follow their lead and not be brash about making them come face to face with their mortality. However, some like me who always like to be in control of our living and dying will be grateful if people listen, speak to us about what we may want and help us plan for a life we would not be present to witness.
We forget however, that whilst we have the luxury of time they don’t. As they say, life is understood with the benefit of hindsight.
I remember being so worried about the heavy schedule of work Mr Aisi took on when he recovered from his kidney failure scare in February last year.
From March till September when he died, he only stayed at home without going out for a total of 2 days in spite of my pleas that he should take things easy. Sometimes, after my pleas and threats he would look at me without saying anything and go out as planned. At other times he would tell me he had heard and say that I wouldn’t understand and still go out as planned.
Looking back , I now realize he knew the time was short and wanted to put in as much as he could within the time he had left. He may have lived longer if he took things a bit easier but I am sure he died content that he had done the much he could within the space of time given and that to a large extent he knew that I and the children could handle a future without him.
So what do you say to a child who you know is dying, do you allay his fears, tell him or her about your own opinions about eternity, assure him grandma or grandpa will be there waiting for them.
Do you ask your parent if they have written a will, how they want their burial service to go, what they want done about their furniture, clothes, assets, their pets, etc.
Do you ask your friend or sibling what their dreams are for their young children, what they would have you do for them, Do you ask if they will want their organs donated or whether they would prefer not to be resuscitated if they fell unconscious.
I recently read a story of a guy whose father died when he was seven years but who had left him letters with different headings e.g Open when you are 16, open when you think you absolutely hate your mum, open when your first child is born, open after you’ve had sex for the first time. The man was in his 70’s at the time he wrote of his experience and he said that he actually grew up with his father’s voice at different milestones of his life. What a wonderful gift his father and mother gave to him because they came to terms with his impending death.
The dying and aged have fears, aspirations etc and it helps us and them when we understand how they feel and what their fears are. When we allow them to talk freely about their fears, aspirations and hopes they open up to us and use us as their hands, eyes etc to touch a tomorrow they wouldn’t participate in but can influence a little.
Knowing that their families are safe , their legacy is in place, their children will be well looked after is the most precious gift we can give the aged and terminally ill.