Monday, November 26, 2012

Etiquette When Death Is In The House

Because this is a tough one to write, let me just get down to it. Death is not a spectator sport.

When someone is "sent home", there is nothing left to try, Hospice is called in (or not), and you receive word that a loved one or friend is dying, please

Understand this is not about you, your schedule, or what you want to do. At. All.

Those in the household are going through a great deal, as is, obviously, the person who is preparing to die. Dying is hard work. It's not pleasant. It's ugly. It's dirty. It's smelly. There will be lack of sleep, lack of eating properly, lack of hygiene, lack of smiles, lack of patience, lack of wanting company.

If you do not live in the household...you are company. I don't care if you're children of the person dying. When you go, go prepared to HELP! Cook! Clean! Run errands! Sit with your parent so the other can shower and nap! Pitch in! If they don't want the TV on, don't turn the TV on. The house rules will have changed. Deal with it or stay home. Hate to be so blunt, but chances are really good your parent who is looking after the one who is dying will think those things but not actually tell you. But they'll be so glad when you leave and they'll dread your arrival if they know you'll expect to be catered to...so I'm not as nice as your mama or daddy.

The appearance, and often, the personality of the dying person will change over time as the death process sets in. There may be bloating. If the cause is cancer, there will be a lot of weight loss. A lot. Down to skin and bones. Their coloring will change. If the cause is melanoma, there will be a massive amount of painful tumors throughout the body. If these tumors present themselves on the outside of the body, it will be beyond awful to look at. Don't count on those tumors being hidden when you visit. If it's uncomfortable to the patient, they won't be.

Which is why many people who are dying DO NOT want visitors. They really do not want to be seen as they are. They don't want to have to talk or smile. Now, some may. We're all different. Don't say, "Well, if it were me, I'd want..." It's NOT you!

So...call ahead. If you want to drop by some food, call first. If you want to stick your head in and say, "hi," call first and ask if that will be all right. DO NOT just show up at the door and expect to be ushered in.

You do not know what's going on inside.

Do not arrive at the door and see a sign asking you to NOT ring the bell and assume that means everyone but you and ring it anyway.

What can you do?

Pitch in. Run errands, go grocery shopping, check the mail, walk the dog, change the bird cage. Babysit at your house. Decorate the outside of the house if it's Christmas. Do things on the schedule of the household...theirs, not yours and be flexible if there's a change and gracious if they say "No thank you." But, whatever you do, CALL first!

And pray. Pray for peace and comfort.

As I say, everyone is different and all households are different. But, when we get right down to it, dying at home is pretty much the same for everyone in some ways. Body systems shut down. Appearances change. Often personalities change. There are sights and smells that can be embarrassing but cannot be helped, but those in the house don't want those outside the house to see them or smell them. It's very raw and emotional inside that house as people deal with a great deal.

This time is about them. It's not about you.

Your time will come and you'll understand.

Until then, make them grateful they know you!