How can you help people finish life well? Several years ago Carol Courtney found herself in an interesting position. Her mother called to say that her father was in the hospital due to breathing problems. As a healthcare professional, all kinds of things were running through Courtney’s mind.
“I knew he had been having episodes where he would black out, but not pass out. This made me think he was having respiratory issues,” says Courtney. “As time went by and I kept asking my mother for information, I realized she did not know the names of my father’s doctors nor did she have any idea what was happening other than he had breathing issues.”
As a nurse, Courtney knew that this lack of information was not uncommon for people who are unfamiliar with healthcare.
“Most people are intimidated by doctors, are often afraid to ask questions or don’t know the right questions to ask,” Courtney says. “My goal was to get my father out of the hospital. In spite of trying to coach my mom from a distance on the kinds of questions she should ask, what to say and how to get to know the physicians, when my father was discharged she did not know his diagnosis or the care that would be required to keep him at home.”
At this point, Courtney decided to take action. She wrote down every question she had before calling the physician. She knew from experience that if you ask the right questions you will get the answers.
The key is knowing what to ask.
“From my conversation with the physician I learned my dad had terminal pulmonary fibrosis and he was expected to live approximately three months,” Courtney says. “I was the one who told my parents about pulmonary fibrosis, what the coming days would probably look like and what we needed to do to make this time as pleasant as possible.”
This is when things tend to get tough for families with members about to finish life, explains Courtney. The stress can fracture a family’s ‘fault lines’ and lead to a falling out – right at the time when the dying person needs their support.
“I knew we had a very short amount of time to do what I considered important business,” Courtney says. “My mom emailed all of Dad’s relatives and friends and explained that he was terminally ill. She invited all of them to come for a visit as soon as possible. My dad died 11 weeks after being discharged from the hospital. But, in those 11 weeks, 32 people came to see my father. We laughed, cried, shared stories and truly enjoyed each other’s company.”
Courtney’s sons brought their grandfather tons of chocolate when they came to visit him. He loved chocolate, but hadn’t been allowed to have it because of high cholesterol. They had a serious party!
“When my father died, his funeral was truly a celebration of his life,” Courtney says. “This whole experience changed my focus in life. I realized I was passionate about helping people finish life well. My goal is for people to have reconciliation and celebration before they die.”
Most people don’t want to think about dying or planning what they want that process to look like. That includes arranging their funeral.
“Talking about the end of life and what you want it to look like with your spouse and children is revolutionary,” Courtney says. “I encourage people to plan and communicate about what they want and how their family and friends can help. They can take a methodical and thorough approach, and end life well.”
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