For some of us, certain events in life may seem unreal.
Saying “I do” in your own wedding ceremony, signing the papers for your first home, witnessing the birth of your first child—these are moments that, as they occur, you realize are life milestones. Often, there is an instant within such a moment when you think, “Is this really me? Is this really happening?”
When you visit an iconic landmark in person or see a famous individual up close, an “Oh, wow!” may flash through your mind as you think, “There he/she/it is and here I am, seeing her/it/him through my own eyes. Am I really here?”
Similarly, when a loved one receives a terminal diagnosis, the cold reality may be hard to process. “Is my dad, the strong and wise man who has always been part of my life, actually mortal? He’s always been here—could be really die?” While you consciously know that your spouse/parent/sibling has limited time remaining, the situation can be almost unreal. “Is this really happening? To him/her—–and to me?”
The change in situation affects not only the person facing death, but also those who will survive. Friends and family behave differently. There are concerns about how to behave, concerns about how to face the future, concerns about dealing with loss.
At Hope Hospice, our chaplains and social workers provide guidance daily for those who have difficulty coming to grips with the approaching death of a loved one. We know that it may seem unreal.
The message here is for caregivers, family members and friends to face the reality of the situation. Yes, it may be like no other life event you’ve witnessed before, but the dying process is a significant time—for the person who is dying and for those who survive. When the thought “Oh, wow, is this really me sitting next to my dying parent?” pops up, embrace the reality.
It may be hard to say things you want to say. You may think, “I’ll share everything during the final moments of (my loved one’s) life. I’ll call his/her old friends when he/she is near the end.” Reality dictates that you need to do these things sooner rather than later.
John Mayer wrote the song “Say,” for the movie “The Bucket List,” a film about two men facing death. Mayer sang: “In the end, it’s better to say too much than never say what you need to say again. Even if your hands are shaking and your faith is broken, even as the eyes are closing, do it with a heart wide open.”
As unreal as the prospect of death may seem when it looms close by, death is real. The experience of watching someone you love slowly fade away is real. Death, after all, is part of life.