The sentiments expressed in the photo above are central to being able to really help someone who is dying. But the best part is that you find the humanity of this carrying over into your interactions with others and although you may not always make the best choices, it will make a difference.
I have watched family members of a dying patient come into the room, turn on all the lights, change the television to the news to to some obnoxious sitcom they happen to enjoy and sit there rubbing up and down on the patient’s arm saying things (loudly) like, “Dad. Dad. Sue’s here. Wake up dad!” So if you put yourself in the patient’s place, you realize that when you don’t feel good and all you want is quiet and dark, those actions are bothersome. If you were asleep (maybe for the first time in hours), it’s irritating to have someone vigorously rubbing your arm. And the news or the sitcom? I imagine that if I’m dying and facing my own mortality, processing the events of my life and narrowing things down to what really matters in these last moments, the latest school shooting or government squabble or comedy laugh track or prime time murder mystery isn’t going to be the last thing I want to hear. I imagine I’ll be down to the basics: what did I do with my life? Did I do the best I could under the circumstances? I’ll want the quiet to be able to focus. I can’t say I’ve ever had a patient who was still semi-alert ask me to turn on some heavy metal and turn it up, please. Not one.
Have you ever felt bad enough that food sounded disgusting? Appetite disappears rapidly when you start to fade. Nothing sounds tasty. In fact, the mere thought might make you nauseous, right? So when I see family member force-feeding a patient who clearly can’t swallow, I’m a little horrified. I understand not wanting to lose someone you love. However, I’ve been around it long enough now to also recognize that the family member is thinking of herself and her potential loss, not what the patient wants. I know we tend to think the thing to do when soneone doesn’t feel well is to feed them, but when the patient is dying, those same rules don’t apply and even if you don’t know that, you can see it. If the patient can’t swallow or is alert enough to tell you he’s not hungry, then honor his request not to eat. Put yourself in his place. If you were as sick as he is, would you want to eat?
Perhaps it requires a bit of age to be able to recognize the efficacy of putting yourself in someone else’s place, because Lord knows I couldn’t do that for many of my earlier decades, but it’s a good practice. Even if you haven’t ever been in a similar situation, I’ve found that if I can look at it from the angle of what I’d most likely be experiencing under the same circumstances, I’m much more likely to make a good decision. So the next time you find yourself wanting to impose your own desires on someone who’s got a different idea of how things should be, try to look at who you might be based on the history of their life and the decisions you might have made that lead you up to this point, and see if it changes the decision you might make. You’ll be much more likely to do something that makes that person more comfortable in the moment.