Tomorrow I am going to a Medical Aid In Dying meeting. This is a subject that many do not want to think about, let alone talk about. To me, it has always been personal. After 3 decades in the helping profession, two of which I was a crisis counselor for the HIV/AIDS and addiction communities, I have seen more than my share of death. And while in private practice the number of cancer patients I dealt with alongside of some hospice work has made this issue very real to me.
I do not write to debate the finer points of what’s right or wrong. I have never held the position that the answer is so simple. It’s not. But after all those years in helping people with end of life issues, I have come to one truth. I cannot judge the experience of another. I’ll take it a step further. I cannot judge the pain of another.
I think that many of us have been conditioned from a very young age and never really revisited this issue again. I believe this is a trap. The world is not black and white. It’s 1000 shades of grey. I think I learned that early on the first time a client said they wanted to die. That they could not stand the pain anymore, and their quality of life was diminishing by the hour. When they look into your eyes and say please kill me. What do you do with that?
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I have never found pushing my beliefs on someone to be beneficial. Especially while they are in pain. And although I have been criticized by many for not pushing religion at that time because I am a chaplain, my job is not to convert. My job is to comfort. I believe in offering dignity to the dying. And that can’t be done with a hidden agenda.
So my plea is this. Step out of what you have always known and reexamine. The one certainty in life is death. And no one wants to talk about it. Now is the time. When we have a clear head that is not clouded by pain or persuasion, now is the time to ask yourself what would your wishes be when that time comes? Wouldn’t you want options? Wouldn’t you want to have them documented via a Will and conversations with your loved ones?
Please understand that these conversations in the last days of life are robbing you of time that could be spent comforting, sharing and making peace with the inevitable. These are sacred moments. Just as life is. And when there is no hope and one wishes to die with dignity, agree with them or not, I’m a true believer that we should honor the dying wishes. That if they have come to terms with their creator, then we should respect that.
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