Yesterday I had a shocking telephone conversation with a member of my family. I started the conversation as usual by asking how he was but didn’t get the reply I expected. The words I heard were “My health has got worse”, which wasn’t a surprising comment, but then he added ” I have an aneurysm that is big enough to kill me. It’s a ticking time bomb”
What do you say to someone who shares such news with you?
Surprisingly I found myself in a place of absolute calm. At this point his feelings and needs were more important than mine. I spoke my truth to him. I told him that is something I have never had to face and I asked him how he felt about it. Ironically he didn’t tell me how he felt, he answered my question by telling me how he was dealing with it and what medical procedures were possible.
It seems something as simple as reading a book or watching television could divert his thoughts away from the fears about his aneurysm. We spoke of mindfulness to help appreciate each day and not spend the rest of his life in fear. We spoke of gratitude that he had already beaten many health issues in his life and had lived over 20 years longer than he had expected. As he said he was already a winner as far as he was concerned.
We also spoke of his absolute clarity that no matter what the odds he wanted a surgeon to try to remove the aneurysm although I am not sure that decision will be his to take as he is currently undergoing lots of tests to see if an operation is possible.
The normality of every day life ended our conversation quite abruptly as this man’s wife called him away for dinner. As I put the phone down a few tears welled up in my eyes. It was a surreal conversation.
Should we talk about death?
I had learned many years ago when my then husband’s Italian father died, that talking about death was the better option. At the time it shocked me that the Italians wanted details but I could see the benefit to my mother-in- law as she spoke of her husbands death.
As my Mum died when I was a little girl I was happy to accept that ‘heaven’ existed and she was in it and consequently I had never feared death itself. But I have not faced the imminent possibility of my own death so I have not walked in the shoes of someone who is doing just that.
And whilst I wanted to say ” death is simply a transition back home, back to the beautiful place we all came from”, I know this is my truth and when talking about death it is important to honour the beliefs of the people I am talking to.
One thing I am sure of though. Whether you are talking to someone whose health is in decline or someone who is grieving the death of a family member or friend communication is key even if your part of the conversation is only to listen.
The man I was talking to is my Dad. For various reasons he has not been the usual father figure in my life but I have always kept in touch with him because he is my Dad. I had chosen not to talk to him for over a year simply because I was dealing with my own challenges. But then something told me to pick up the phone so I followed my intuition and made the call. And I am so glad that I did.
#facing death,#talking to a relative about dying,#sharing your beliefs,#support through listening, #fear of death