The Gift of Goodbye at End of Life
JourneyCare is proud to host Kimberly Paul, author of “Bridging the Gap” and podcast host of “Death by Design,” as she shares touching and humorous personal stories and life lessons she discovered while working at the bedside of hospice patients for nearly 20 years. Kimberly is traveling across the U.S. in an RV to educate communities, help people feel more comfortable talking about end of life, and empower individuals to reclaim death as a human experience and not a medical event. Get tickets at journeycare.org/livewell.
As I travel the country on my Live Well, Die Well tour, a road trip of 49 states in an RV, in an effort to reclaim death from the medical community as well as Washington D.C., I’ve encountered something interesting: People do not think individuals suffering from a serious illness are able to embrace living. Throughout our lives we forget that death is one single moment. And yes, even those facing a serious illness—that most likely will take their life—are living fully and have managed to be some of my greatest teachers of life. People are mostly not afraid of death; they are afraid of suffering prior to death.
This week, I find myself reflecting on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, when terrorists boarded planes in the United States and transformed our country. The Brooklyn Bridge, a New York City landmark, was a pathway to safety that day. The Bridge symbolizes so many things for my family. So much so that it is on the cover of my book, Bridging the Gap. And I often reflect upon those in the Twin Towers, those in all four planes, and even those at the Pentagon who started their day like any other. I believe that when the alarm clock started their day, their thoughts were consumed by the daily stresses that still play a role in each of our lives today; but they never knew that when they rose out of bed that morning, it would be the last day of their lives.
In the Twin Towers, for the 20 or so floors above where the planes hit both buildings, people were alive and unhurt but knew they could not escape the buildings. Some jumped. Those in the planes must have been frightened when men took over the cockpit and chartered a new course. And those serving our government in the Pentagon would have been sitting at their desks as they started a regular day of work. No one imagined the terror that would unfold. Yet, the life lessons some of these individuals taught us cannot go unrecognized. During the most stressful moments of their lives—the moment when they realized that they would most likely die—what did some of these individuals do? Some found phones and called home to those who mattered the most to say, “I love you” and “Goodbye.” Under all that stress, the human impulse was to express emotion and say goodbye.
As I sit on a plane, a day before September 11, 2019, I think about my mission for the Live Well, Die Well Tour—reclaiming death from the medical community. You see, death is not a medical event; it is a human event. When I think of those facing a serious illness within this disease management system we call healthcare, it scares me. So many who are sick have not been told that they are dying. Somehow, along the way, we have forgotten that truth is the key to choices.
Those who are facing an imminent death know they are dying. They have noticed their body changing and shutting down, with no appetite. Their loved ones have noticed the weight loss, the increased sleeping habits as well as the frailness that has taken over the strong, independent person who once occupied the body prior to the illness.
Yet, when the medical professionals keep suggesting treatment after treatment, both patient and family members go against their gut and trust the advice of these professionals. When this happens, a majority of the time, these patients end up in the ICU, never having the opportunity to say, “I love you” or “Goodbye” at end of life. If we in the healthcare field do not tell our patients the truth about their illness, we are stealing the last developmental stage of living from them. The human impulse was absolutely evident on September 11, 2001.
We must change this. We must ask the right questions. We must express our wishes and desires to those who matter the most prior to a healthcare crisis. We must meet the healthcare professionals halfway. We must educate ourselves on the paperwork that will re-enforce conversations with those who will speak as us when we are unable to speak for ourselves. We must design our life around what matters most so that our death will not be remembered as a tragic medical event. And yes, we in the healthcare field must tell the truth to our patients in order to empower educated choices.
The way we plan for our death, the way we talk about our death, the way we will face our own death will most likely be key factors in how our loved ones will grieve us. I don’t know about you, but I want to do it well. To me, that means involving hospice and palliative care services early within the last years of my life. I want to reach out and implement the greatest lesson I learned from those facing their own deaths on 9/11 all those years ago. I want the chance to say, “I Iove you” and “Goodbye” to those who matter the most to me.
Join JourneyCare and Kimberly Paul as her Live Well Die Well Tour arrives in Barrington and Hinsdale! Laugh and cry as Kimberly shares about her journey traveling across the U.S. in an RV, educating communities and helping people feel more comfortable talking about end of life. She may inspire you to design your own life and death around what matters most! Get tickets at journeycare.org/livewell.