I know of two brothers who shared a bedroom. One of the boys slept peacefully every night. He embraced the dark room as a place where all was quiet, safe and peaceful. The other one grew anxious and afraid as soon as the lights went out. He imagined monsters and danger in the darkness. They shared the exact same environment; the only difference was how they perceived that environment. Not long ago, I attended a meeting for cancer survivors. About 50 people were present. Everyone there had been diagnosed with cancer, except for me. I was invited because I had written about coping with cancer within my family. Some of those in attendance were currently in treatment. Several ladies had covered their balding heads with hats or scarves and many appeared to be tired and weak. Others had been in remission for a while and seemed to be doing well. The facilitator asked participants how their diagnosis had affected their lives. People said things like, "My priorities changed," and "I realized what was truly important." The most surprising thing to me is how many of them counted the experience of life-threatening disease as a blessing. People spoke of experiencing freedom when their lives were purged of all the superficial stuff that once demanded so much time, attention and affection. Not that the purging was easy — it never is — but it resulted in a fresh perspective. People spoke of a new appreciation of life and of feeling as if their eyes had been opened. I have the unique, daily experience of visiting with people who are faced with limited life expectancy. They are often struggling with the loss of physical abilities and independence. There are practical ways that the hospice team can help these people to be more comfortable, but some things are beyond human control. Here are some things that caregivers can do to inspire loved ones toward a more positive perspective: a. Remind them of the people who love and care for them.
b. Encourage them to share their life stories and recall meaningful memories.
c. Affirm them in what they have accomplished and contributed.
d. Assure them that they will not be forgotten. I often tell people that God is full of love and mercy, and that he responds to sincere, humble prayer. He cares for each individual as a good shepherd cares for every little lamb. Sometimes I sing little songs of blessing and peace. One of my favorite lines goes like this: "There is peace in the time of trouble; peace in the midst of the storm. Peace, though the world be raging; in the shelter of God’s arms."
Danny Royer is a freelance writer and chaplain for the Hospice Alliance. November is National Hospice Month. Readers may e-mail the author at loopid
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