Sunday, June 08, 2014

Final Journeys by Maggie Callanan

Final Journeys: A Practical Guide for Bringing Care and Comfort at the End of Life, Maggie Callanan. New York: Random House Publishing Group, 2008. e-book, 284 pps.

     Throughout my time on the spaceship earth, some people of my acquaintance have had the nerve to die and some have had the nerve to keep on living. All of this is labeled in my brain as *StuffNotUnderMyControl*. No doubt, a few folks have wished for my expiration too. As long as there are no guns or poisons or other stuff involved, I'm good with that. 

     During my nursing home work, I became acutely aware of the distinct tendency of medical personnel to keep people "alive" far beyond the point of natural death. I suppose that this can be partially attributed to the religious affiliation of the umbrella organization under which the nursing home sheltered. Oh, and derived its funding. Some part of it. Another part perhaps the wishes of the family. And yes, I blame religion for some part of this mess as well.

     There was one patient of my acquaintance in that nursing home who did not want any sort of tube feeding. Patient had a living will on file with social services. We were told that social services had "lost" the living will which stated no tube feeding. I was down the hall when patient had an ng tube inserted. The screams were horrid. Fortunately, patient died three days later. Patient did not appear to have any family or friends outside of the nursing home who could advocate for patient. I bear some guilt even today. I was young and I didn't know how to speak up. For that I am truly sorry.

     There was another patient of my acquaintance in that nursing home who had hospice involvement. I remember distinctly that the particular patient was not subjected to frequent pointless testing or treatments which the other inmates were tortured with. I was aware that hospice was in the neighborhood but I really didn't know much about it.

     I knew general things like hospice does an excellent job of pain management for its patients and loved ones are provided with grief counseling. That was pretty much about it.

     I had read all of the Elisabeth KΓΌbler-Ross books when a family member was dying some time before that. I had a very close friend who recently died of a long-term chronic genetic illness. I was the young child that an older relative always took with her to the wakes of various friends of hers as they died. [It seems no one else would go and I was glad to go. Dead bodies did not bother me]. And from the time that I was able to negotiate the newspaper, I've been checking the obits faithfully. 

     I'd also had my own near-death experience-- complete with flying up a tunnel to a grid of light, an overwhelming peace and warmth, and total anger when the dog "woke" me up. You do not have to be clinically dead to experience an N.D.E. I learned later on that NDEs can also be triggered by extreme fear. The house that I was in was on fire and the fire was right outside my bedroom window. Big fear. Yup. Regardless of what explanation one may favor in explanation of how and why NDEs occur, there is one thing that I clearly know: It changed my life. And the second thing that I clearly know: I no longer have any fear of death. That disappeared because of my NDE.

      All of that stuff is "nice" in a feel-good but distant way when one is not in the trenches. But now I am in the trenches. Someone extremely close to me is actively dying. Final Journeys is a book that is full of information that I needed to know but did not have. Death is a journey. There are things we can do to ease the passage for those that we love and things that we can remember. When one person dies, we lose one person. When one person dies, he or she loses everyone. 

     Hospice is not really about death. Hospice is about life and living until the final breath.

sapphoq reviews says: I truly needed to read this book. Final Journeys is reassuring to those of us who are helping loved ones to ready for imminent death. Maggie Callanan's gentleness and compassion shines through the pages of this book. It is a must-read for anyone who is dealing with grieving someone who is about to die. Highly recommended.

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