Learning to deal with death..

I took a new job last November, at an amazing facility for younger adults with irreversible physical disabilities.  Imagine visiting a traditional nursing home and seeing that one client who is younger, maybe has Multiple Sclerosis or cerebral palsy, who doesn’t really fit in with the more geriatric programs offered.  My facility is 130 of those younger individuals, this is their home, and programs range from music therapy, occupational and physical therapy, and recreational outings to places like adaptive horseback riding to the movies to travel scholarships to places like Walt Disney World and the beach.  My clients are blessed to be spared some of the other group homes I’ve seen, which I still don’t understand how they passed their state inspections.

This is their home.  They live here for years and years.  But they also die here.  While we are outfitted with an amazing chaplain, hospice services, etc., some of my new job responsibilities include the organizing of funeral services, sitting with ill clients and their loved ones, all the nitty gritty.  I’m most proud of our mission that clients are treated with dignity and respect on all levels.

But, dealing with death, the unknown, is hard.  Knowing what to say, what not to say, what faith, if any, is regarded.  Most of the time, I handle things well – I handle death well.  I’m a realist. In many cases, it is a blessing that my clients are not suffering anymore.  But as I grow closer to some of my folks, I know this will be more of a personal and professional challenge for me.  When you take a job here, and you’re ‘in’, you’re in for the long haul.  Their home becomes your ‘home away from home.’  And in many ways, I realize that as a social worker, I am part of many of my clients’ families, too.  It’s a tedious balance, but rewarding beyond measure.

Death isn’t something a lot of people think about on a daily basis.  And as an agnostic, it can be very scary to think about.  Are the stories about people ‘seeing the light’ really true?  Is there an afterlife?  Is there an ‘underlife’, and if so, am I going there?  Growing up Catholic, I used to fear that if I missed Mass one week, and died in a car accident before getting to confession, would I meet Hell criteria? (I think it’s safe to say I had an active imagination and have come a long way.)

10 years ago, I had a very difficult time with a brain tumor, and found at the tender age of 28, I was being asked if I had a living will, an advanced directive, etc.?  Wait, do I WHAT?

And grief!  I could explain the stages, what to expect, etc., but everyone grieves differently and at different paces.  There is no timeline on grief.  And those stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance do not always occur in that order.  And all of that is OK.

I could preach the importance of such things as advanced directives, and will put in one plug here:  if you haven’t thought about it, try.  Through life experience, I’ve seen and learned from others that the last thing I would ever want are my husband and parents to have conflicting opinions regarding what to do with me should I become incapacitated.  Your decision can be made by you in a better frame of mind if you deal with ‘the mystery’ sooner than later.

Signing off as I find my own paperwork to fill out.


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