The terminally ill face the reality of death every day. They may initially deny and bargain but the reality eventually sets in. How the terminally ill are treated is key to their dignity and hope. Hope and dignity to their personhood is key. One does not set out to rid one of hope but one also hopes to care and treat the symptoms of the terminally ill and guide them through reality.
One of the keys of respecting the dignity and hope of the dying is to treat them as the living. Too many times, doctors and other healthcare physicians dismiss the terminal ill as a lost case. Death is not seen as part of life but a defeat. On the contrary, death is an important part of our lives and how we “live” death is as important as how we lived our entire life. In doing so, the dignity of the dying is respected at the highest level by keeping them part of their own dying process. They should not be ignored, left out of decisions, or treated as children. The topic of death should not be avoided as if taboo, but truthfulness and respect should be applied to the dying. They need to be part of the process as much as possible.
In also respecting their dignity, hope should be nourished. False claims should not be presented but an open reality to hope should always exist. To dismiss one’s dreams and hopes is to disrespect the fire and spark of the human spirit itself. One can work with the dying and apply appropriate alternative therapies and give openness to the dying’s hopes and dreams. This does not mean one exists in a state of denial. On the contrary, this means, one accepts the dire situation and the nature of the disease, but also expresses the hope that is inherent to human dignity.
In nourishing both the dignity of living the death process as well as hope, those in pastoral care and pastoral thanatology can better treat the emotional element of the dying. It is as equally important that hospice or health providers not only treat and alleviate suffering of the body, but also the mind. This is why pastoral thanatology is so important in hospice.
If we do not understand the needs of the dying from an emotional standpoint or treat the dying as living, then we miss the entire point of pastoral care for the dying. We also miss the point of the human condition and the importance of death in the entire process of life. Elisabeth Kubler Ross and David Kessler were both pioneers in their field in expressing the rights and needs of the dying. They both dedicated their life to helping others experience death. They also helped train and educate so many people about death.
If we do not understand death now, we will not be able to have a better death ourselves, nor be equipped to help one’s loved one’s experience death. So many regrets and un-needed pains exist because the dying experience was not properly conducted in terms to expression of emotion or inclusion of the dying in their own affairs. Death is seen as the final chapter and as a scary one at that. It is fine to be intimidated by it, but it is part of life and like all aspects of life, it is critical that we live death to its fullest. We need to respect it as much as we respect birth and respond to it properly.
If you would like to learn more about Pastoral Thanatology or would like to become certified in Pastoral Thanatology, then please review AIHCP’s Pastoral Thanatology program and see if it meets your academic and professional goals.