End-of-Life Emotional Wellness for Patients and Family
Editor’s note: Dr. Monica Williams-Murphy, MD, an emergency-room physician, and her husband, Kristian Murphy, are the authors of the book It’s OK to Die, about preparing for, and making peace with, the most overwhelming prospect in life. Here, they talk about the emotional components for all involved.
Emotional wellness is important to cultivate in all phases of living, but may be most naturally available at the end of life—the very time when the wellness of the body may be waning.
How is this so?
When people have a sure knowledge that they are nearing the end of their lives, a new type of energy is unleashed. Old inhibitions and blockages may be released. An emotional and spiritual window of opportunity opens which allows love to be shared more freely, old grudges to fall away in insignificance, and relationship healing to occur which seemed unobtainable at other times of life.
This window of opportunity must be used wisely, as it may be a short-lived gift. Death may come in days to months, so this time should be cultivated to gather in its full potential.
Here are my four recommendations for cultivating Emotional Wellness at the End of Life:
Say Your Six Things (These “Six Things” borrow from and were inspired by Dr. Ira Byock’s book, “The Four Things That Matter Most.”)
I believe there are Six Things that must be said to those who are dying and by those who are dying, regardless of whether the receiving party reciprocates the sentiments or not. Be aware that deep or hidden feelings will be released during conversations guided by these six statements:
1. “I’m sorry…” (“I’m sorry that I didn’t visit more.”)
2. “I forgive you…” (“I forgive you for your drinking.”)
3. “Thank you…” (“Thank you for staying with me.”)
4. “I love you…” (“I will love you forever.”)
5. “It’s OK to die…” (“It’s OK for me to go now, you will be OK too.”)
6. “Goodbye…” (Farewell, my love.”)
True expression of these six sentiments allows the release of powerful emotional energies, enabling all parties to come to peace and closure (a settling of affairs), all the while creating acceptance of the dying process.
Freely express grief
Grief is a natural and expected response to the ending of life. There is no magic trick allowing anyone to circumvent grief. Instead, consciously entering deeply into grief may, in fact, accelerate emotional healing. Choosing to grieve freely and openly cleanses the mind and emotions of anger, depression, and other negative thoughts and energies that may instead become stored if ignored or repressed.
Focus on beauty, love and joy
Surround yourself with the people and things that you love. Listen to the music that moves you most. Seat yourself where you can see your favorite view. Smell the flowers that remind you of your childhood. Call old friends. Read your most cherished books (or have them read to you). Focus on those things that bring you joy, those things that magnify your feelings of love and clarify your sense of beauty.
Leave a legacy
A legacy is a gift that is passed on and may transform the life of the receiver. Legacies may be given in the form of emotional and spiritual gifts and knowledge, not material items alone. What emotional or spiritual legacy might you pass on to others? What life lessons have you learned that might benefit your friends and family? Record the story of your life, how you have felt during challenges, and the consequences of your choices, both good and bad—pass this on as your personal legacy (a written document, or audio/video recordings). What if this legacy changed the course of another person’s history, or even changed the history of the world?
Practicing these four steps will cultivate peace, closure and emotional wellness at the end of life, and in any stage of living—even where you are now.
Portions of this essay were excerpted from the book “It’s OK to Die,” and were used with permission from MKN, LLC. For more information or to order the book, visit www.oktodie.com.Click here to comment.