I remember once working with a family that was very reluctant to have the hard conversation about the matriarch’s imminent death. Mom had stage four cancer that was taking over her body, there was no cure and she was now deemed palliative. Her dying was the pink elephant in the room no one dared talk about for fear it would then be ‘real’.
So in I went. Deanne, the daughter had asked me for help so we set up a time when the family was together. We sat around the dinning room table and here is how I began.
“Vivian I know this is going to be a really difficult conversation for you to have with us. Your husband, daughters, you, and I are going to talk about your impending death. We are going to chat about it for about 45 minutes, it is really important for all of us that we do. May I have your permission to continue?”
Though my directness may seem rather bold it was done with incredible love and compassion and for this family at this particular time it was exactly the right remedy. Though they were all scared, there was a big sigh of relief from them all that the pink elephant had been lovingly outed. They all knew the conversation needed to take place they we just scared to face it – to face the reality of Vivian’s death. It was the compassionate boldness that opened the door.
You see this type of end of life work is not science.
It is art.
There is no one way or formulae.
There are skills, techniques, theories, processes, stages, therapies, phrases, words, grief road maps, settings, times of day, days of the week, tones of voice, facial expressions, body posture – all of these and more that can be used to lovingly support individuals and families facing end of life issues. These are the colors and paint brushes at the disposal of a great end of life coach who is not married to just one approach, one brush or one colour.
You see each person, each family is absolutely unique and requires their own individual approach. There is no cookie cutter approach!
So what does a great end of life coach do then? Take my end of life training… J
Seriously, a great end of life coach will approach the opportunity with an open heart, full presence, and full attention on the person or family at hand. They will listen mostly for the first while and get a ‘feel’ for where folks are at – and they listen with their ears AND eyes AND feeling senses AND intuition AND body awareness. Then the great end of life coach will try something, a sentence, a question, a notice like a color and a brush stroke on the canvas. It will work or it won’t and by paying attention the great coach will notice if progress was made or if the shell of closure got tighter and then simply and artfully adjust.
It takes practice, training, love, courage, and compassion… and practice. Did I mention practice?
Knowing all this a great end of life coach would simply begin with a sense of loving-kindness.