Thoughts from the dying: perspectives of patients in palliative care

Judith shares her thoughts

Why do you want to talk about this stage of life?

Well, it might help somebody. If it helps a lot of people, I’ll be really happy.

End of life is a difficult thing to talk about for some people. Do you find it hard?

No, not a bit. I’ve very OK with the whole thing. It’s all about family and memories. Until the day I die, I’ll make new memories.

Did it take you a while to get to this stage?

It was difficult, especially for my family. When they use that word ‘cancer’ everybody cringes. I have four children and 11 grandchildren and I’m a widow. My doctor so far has been able to keep the pain away, and that a real gift. But after they said cancer, I kind of settled back and said, you know I am 87 and it’s time to pass. And I want to get the most out of it. I wanted to remember the memories I had and make new ones, and I have. I’ve seen some wonderful places, and I keep thinking of those.

How long ago were you diagnosed?

About a month ago.

That’s fast.

I’m physically comfortable, but the only thing I want to do is sleep. I’ve seen everyone I wanted to see. I’ve had three people tell me I made a dramatic change in their lives. I thought that was such a compliment. And it’s all been good. I’ve had some very good friends. This place is incredible, and the people here are angels from heaven. I’m not a religious person but I have to believe there’s something that makes the world what it is. When you go out in the morning and someone has cut the lawn and the smell is so beautiful, and you put the coffee pot on and those things. They are free and beautiful.

People might be surprised to hear that you are so OK with this.

Well, I look at my family and they are pretty super people. I’ve raised four beautiful children and I’ve had a lot to do with those 11 grandchildren. None of them are in any kind of trouble, and I know they are really going to go places so that makes it easy. I’m really finding it easy, and I hope other people do, too if they remember all the good things in life.

Do you have any regrets?

Oh yes, I certainly wasn’t perfect in any respect. But when 80% of what you do is good, then you feel good with it. And you can deal with the other part.

Do you have advice for people on things they can do to make their days more meaningful?

Well, I think always try to have a positive attitude. I lost my husband and had to support my children. I would get up in the morning, go to my bathroom, clean my teeth, look in the mirror and say ‘you can do it’. And I think that’s what you have to do. This passing on is part of life, and you have to deal with it in a sensible, positive way.

Many people are afraid to talk about it.

They are afraid of what’s going to happen to them.

What do you think comes next?

There must be a better place. Because somebody made those beautiful hills in Southern California. They are gorgeous, gorgeous. Somebody made that. Somebody made the smell that comes from grass being cut and coffee. When I go out and hear the birds or smell the flowers, that’s good.

For people reading this, who have a loved one who is palliative, what can they do to help? What can they say?

Just be supportive. Phone. Be there to say ‘I love you’ and to talk about it. I think people like to talk about this. They don’t want to put it away.

Has it helped you to talk about dying?

Oh gosh, yes. It’s there and it’s very important to talk about it. People are afraid to say ‘I’m dying’. But you know what? Every day, you’re dying. You are. And it’s just part of the path.

Has it made it easier for you to have the time to say goodbye?

I had a heart attack in February and I could have gone then quickly and not have had this experience. It makes it easier to have the time. You can get to everybody that you may have said something hurtful to. You can get to everybody you cared about, everybody who did something for you. I’ve had a chance to talk to my grandchildren and tell them not to be afraid, that I’m not.

What makes you happy now?

It’s the funniest thing. I can’t see, I can’t walk and I’m having difficulty hearing. It’s kind of like you’re trapped in your body so you have to get out of that some way. That’s where the memories come in. You have to get yourself out of that situation and you can do it by pulling out those wonderful times.

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