The following is a quick list for how to be supportive to someone mourning the loss of a child. The truth is much of these thoughts can be used in all situations of being a comfort to others suffering through loss.
Comforting parents after the death of a child can be challenging, but the skills necessary to help a bereaved parent can be within our abilities to care and reach out. The skills include:
Acknowledging the family’s loss, their pain and your sadness about the loss
Allowing parents to express themselves without judging them or giving unsolicited advice or suggestions
Allowing the parents to cry
Allowing yourself to cry
Not feeling awkward and speaking when a silence occurs
Just being present
Saying the name of the child in conversation
Avoid using clichés such as “I know how you feel.” “At least you know they are in a better place.” Or “You’re young. You can always have other children.”
Being interested in their stories about the child and their loss
Avoiding trying to explain why the loss took place
Sharing your fond memories of the child
Asking to see pictures of the child
Extending gestures of concern
Remembering anniversaries and special days by contacting the parents
Including the surviving children in your conversations and in your care for the family
Donating a memorial in honor of the child
Doing something special for the family without asking or without being asked
Respecting the grieving styles and needs of the parents
Keep in mind that the parents may not be able to ask for help or be able to tell you just what they need.
Giving them time and emotional space to heal. Be patient.
Written by Larry M. Barber, LPC-S, CT author of the grief survival guide “Love Never Dies: Embracing Grief with Hope and Promise” available online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and http://grief-works.org/book.php . Also available for Kindle and Nook. Larry is the director of GriefWorks, a free grief support program for children and their families in Dallas TX http://grief-works.org.
Bryan Kinzbrunner, chaplain of the Oscar and Ella Wilf Campus for Senior Living, in the Somerset section of Franklin, is pictured with Wilf resident Bobby Rosenstraus on a recent trip to Israel. / PHOTO COURTESY OF WILF CAMPUS FOR SENIOR LIVING
Rabbi Bryan Kinzbrunner
Oscar and Ella Wilf Campus for Senior Living, Franklin (Somerset)
As I was walking around Ben Gurion airport in Israel an hour before my return flight home, looking for something to purchase for my two young children, I happened upon a pile of dreidels, the special spinning top Jews have played with during Hanukkah for centuries. On the dreidel is written four Hebrew letters, Nun, Gimmel, Hey and either Shin or Peh. The letters stand for the phrase, a great miracle happened here/there. Throughout most of the world, the miracle is seen as something that happened there, in another land. However, standing in Israel, the dreidel says to us, the miracle happened right here, right in this land.
The Hanukkah miracle in the year 167 BCE was the Hasmonean defeat of the Seleucid Greeks, a little band defeating a grand army. Hanukkah was an instance of David defeating Goliath. The great miracle is the overcoming of insurmountable odds. As I am standing there purchasing two Israeli dreidels for my boys, I began thinking about another miracle, one which occurred one year prior.
Last November, days after Hurricane Sandy, The Oscar and Ella Wilf Campus for Senior Living in Somerset, where I work, began a miraculous journey of its own. Nine staff members of our campus accompanied 12 seniors on a tour of Israel. For many, this was their first time traveling to Israel, the birthplace of Western religion. For others, it was the miracle of travelling internationally again at such an advanced age. Either way, it was truly something that left a mark on each and everyone’s heart and soul.
Personally, while I have been fortunate to have traveled to Israel many times and to have spent a year of study in Israel, this was truly a different and special time. Accompanying Holocaust survivors, people of different faiths and my colleagues and residents to places that have inspired me, offered me new and different eyes through which to see Israel.
Living in the United States, the commemoration of Thanksgiving is a holiday along the same lines. It is a day of gratitude celebrating the founding of a free nation. While no nation and no miracle can be seen in a vacuum, as both Hannukah and Thanksgiving have stories surrounding the days which raise fundamental questions, the commonality of being grateful for the miracle in the moment, is worthy of celebration. And this year, in a once-in-a-lifetime calendrical event, Jews in the United States get to celebrate both miracles together.
May each and every one find gratitude during this time of year for all we have, all we have opportunity to do and for the miracle of life and living in a world where we can see with our own eyes where the great miracles of history happened.
Rabbi Bryan Kinzbrunner is the campus chaplain for The Oscar and Ella Wilf Campus for Senior Living, which comprises The Martin and Edith Stein Assisted Living, The Lena and David T. Wilentz Senior Residence, The Martin and Edith Stein Hospice, Wilf Transport , Wilf at home, and the Foundation at the Wilf Campus. For more information, call 888-311-5231, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.wilfcampus.org.
For many people, visiting someone or trying to support someone who is in mourning the loss of a loved one can be a difficult proposition. We are plagued with trying to figure out what to say, how to act and perhaps we ourselves are in pain and don’t have the emotional strength to be present with someone else who is living in sadness. The following story and description is an interesting perspective on what visiting someone sitting shiva, or for that matter anyone mourning a loved one, as it emphasizes the impact of just showing up. Showing up can sometimes in itself be the truest of expressions of empathy with a mourner.
At first the words ‘drive by shiva’ seemed offbeat even a touch offensive.
A friend told me he was paying a shiva call, and the person sitting shiva excused himself and walked onto his terrace for a brief moment.
When he returned, he explained that he lives in a densely populated neighborhood famous for its congested streets and nearly no on street parking.
Another friend of his had called him from his car to explain that he had rounded the block several times and could not find any parking spot. No surprise to anyone familiar to the neighborhood. He said he didn’t want to leave without at least talking to him to pay his respects even over the phone.
The person sitting shiva immediately asked him to drive back to the front of the house.
He said he’ll walk out on the terrace so his friend could at least step out of the car, ‘see him’ and say the sentence ascribed to mourners that G-D should comfort the mourners amongst Zion and Jerusalem which is an important part of the visit.
And so he did. He paid his respects in person however brief seeing and talking to him from his terrace. The mourner was properly consoled and a parking spot was spared.
This may all sound amusing of course, yet it may be a proper alternative to some of the inappropriateness that too often takes place in a shiva house.
People asking wholly inappropriate questions of the mourner(s), laughter and gaiety as if it’s a sorority, staying endlessy long thus preventing others from entering a congested room to pay their respects.
When Rabbi Yisroel Reisman, Rav of the Agudah of Madison was sitting shiva for his father A’H he went to great lengths to teach those who came to pay their respects the proper way to do so. Recalling what he had learned from his Rebbe Rav Pam, A’H he explained the purpose is to talk about the niftar, the deceased. A visitor should always wait for the mourner to speak first or acknowledge you in some way. If the visitor knows the deceased you should repeat a good story about him or her. Talking about that person in a good way is a comfort to family members who are mourning.
If you didn’t know the deceased say to the mourner, I didn’t know your _____ well please tell me a good story about him.
Listen to the story, the mourners talking is meant to be cathartic and comforting and after a few additional minutes leave.
Sitting shiva is an emotionally and physically difficult time. As it should be.
It is a time to cry, to remember, for introspection, and to feel a sense of loss. Some mourners may sit alone and only have few visitors. In those situations your remaining awhile may be the best gift you can give them especially if they ask you to stay. In a mourners home that has a large uninterrupted number of visitors, paying your respects properly and briefly is also a gift you bestow. It enables more people to come through, to talk or listen about the deceased and to repeat the important phrase May G-D comfort you…
There are many situations where a telephone call is the only way to pay a shiva call. No doubt most if not all of us have done this when we live a great distance away.
A drive-by shiva sounded funny and even inappropriate when I first heard the term.
Once I understood the circumstances that the mourner considered it more meaningful to ‘see’ his friend albeit momentarily from his terrace than a phone call it seemed perfectly reasonable.
The total time one spends in a mourner’s house to pay his respects should in many cases be less than finding a parking spot in some neighborhoods. It may be a good frame of reference to keep in mind.
It is with interest to read this description of someone who always struggled with being a support to others during shiva (Jewish mourning period for the first week after burial of a loved one) and then had to face being the recipient of support during his time of mourning.
I would use any excuse to avoid making the traditional visit to the home of one in mourning for a close relative. “We weren’t that close. I don’t want to burden them with conversation. There will be a lot of other people there.”
I felt very awkward at shiva calls. But the deeper truth was that I didn’t want to go anywhere near death. I didn’t want to think about it, see it, or be in its presence.
Until several weeks ago, my life had been graced with extra doses of life. Four parents well into their 80’s, six kids and four grandkids. I didn’t want to jinx anything.
All that changed on erev Rosh Hashana. My father, after catching a few fish on the boat with my mother, said he had a headache. A few hours later he was gone.
Shiva came crashing down on the shiva wimp.
The seven days are now long over, but I am still mourning. Words seem to disappear in the air before they reach my ears. I am constantly saying, “What, can you say that again? I didn’t catch it.” I stare out the window, not knowing what I am looking at or looking for. The stickiness of death has not yet departed.
Because my parents lived in the outskirts of Maine, not many people actually visited during the shiva. But hundreds called or wrote. Every Facebook message brought home to me how I had let down other people during their time of mourning; how I had not risen to the occasion to comfort them in their brokenness.
During my shiva, I was overwhelmed by people’s goodness. Thank God, other people were not like me. While I deeply appreciated the time and effort everyone extended to me – some things helped me and some – not so much.
One well-meaning person said, “I am calling to fulfill the mitzvah of comforting mourners.” Ugh. It wasn’t so comforting to become the object of his mitzvah observance. Similarly, many people recited the formulaic Jewish response of “Baruch Dayan HaEmet” or “HaMakom yinachem.” Often I felt they were functioning out of religious obligation. The tone and pace of their speaking changed during their recitation, as if they had moved into a formal and mechanical zone. As they spoke, I seemed to disappear.
Some people offered unsolicited advice – “Remember the good times. Be thankful he didn’t suffer. Time will heal the pain.” I wasn’t ready for it and couldn’t hear it. I felt they were trying to make the tragedy easier for themselves, not for me.
But some people held the space of my brokenness, without trying to “fix” things. As if they put out their hands to hold my tears. People that I didn’t even know well offered me a quiet space to dwell. I greatly appreciated their being with me.
The most comforting and healing for me were the people who shared their own pain with the death of their parent. They spoke from their hearts about how they are still dealing with their loss. In their pain we bonded and together we shared our brokenness. They did not try to do a mitzvah, to recite standard words, or to offer advice. They had the courage to revisit their own period of mourning and honor my grieving with their grief.
They are my shiva heroes. They graced me with the sorrow of their heartbrokenness. I sat in awe and remain grateful for their courage and authenticity.
I hope that I will be able to follow their example and serve as a comfort to others in their time of mourning.
Our minds need to be nourished as well as our bodies. How are we monitoring what is coming into our minds? That is the question posed in this piece. It is interesting for it raises a question for those who adhere to religious or spiritual practices. If we read the wrong books, are we causing a purity of practice and complexity to overtake the value of simplicity?
So, if you were to look at the typical “diet” you feed your mind, what might you find?
Are you letting a lot of toxic worry find its way in?
Does stress try to sprinkle a salty layer onto everything you “eat”?
Are there times you get a double-dose of self-doubt?
What ways might there be of protecting yourself from these things? Of mindfully noting them before you launch into a full-scale “feast” of them? Of choosing when you’ve had enough of them – before they make you feel ill inside…
And what might some healthier, more life-affirming “foods” be for your particular mind? What sort of thoughts could help you feel soothed or relaxed or worthy or restored?
Sometimes it’s worth just practicing how to notice what your current habits are – what are you actually feeding your mind? And then, when you’re ready, noticing what other options there might be available in this banquet we call “life”… Noticing what other dishes you might like to try.
Maybe just tasting something just a little different, trying something just a little different, is all it takes? And who knows what might flow from there…
The blog post I am sharing below resonates personally with me. It is a reminder that when you are in the moment, all bets are off. To know about hospice doesn’t make it any easier to accept the idea of hospice when it is your loved one. This is also why I often argue that regardless of how much hospice will be a household word, it doesn’t mean people will avail themselves of hospice care to its maximum because there is still a spirit of fighting for life. It should be a reminder that while working with people at end of life is holy work, we should never forget the conflict that comes in making the choices for comfort care instead of aggressive care.
Courtesy of the Brenner family Paul Brenner, who died last month, became a hospice director in New York City in his 50s.
Family, friends, colleagues and parishioners said goodbye to Paul Brenner on Monday. He served as the associate pastor of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in San Francisco, where his funeral service was held.
Mr. Brenner’s voice had already weakened when I spoke with him briefly a couple of weeks ago. He was only 73, but 18 months of declining health and months spent in hospitals and nursing homes had sapped his strength. Still, when I asked how many people he thought he had helped to die, I could hear a quiet pride in his response. “Oh, thousands,” he said.
For more than 25 years, starting in the late 1970s when the word “hospice” still drew blank looks (and years before hospice became a Medicare benefit), Mr. Brenner led nonprofit hospice organizations. Yet when his health faltered, choosing to become a hospice patient himself proved unexpectedly difficult. That’s what I wanted to talk about.
His hospice initiation began unconventionally in Jacksonville, Fla.: A member of the church he led was dying and her doctor wanted to move her from a hospital to a nursing home. “She was very upset about that,” Mr. Brenner recalled. After discussions with a nurse, also a parishioner, and a young doctor, “I said, ‘Why don’t I just move you into my home?’ It was clear she’d live only a short time.”
With the nurse and doctor helping, “we kept her until she died on Easter Sunday,” he said. “After that, even though we didn’t know much about it, we decided to start a hospice program.”
What’s now Community Hospice of Northeast Florida began with eight patients, 14 professional volunteers and Mr. Brenner as C.E.O. “We organized as best we could,” he said. “God seemed to direct and guide us.”
Mr. Brenner went on to take leadership roles at Hospice of Palm Beach County; Montgomery Hospice in Rockville, Md.; the Jacob Perlow Hospice at New York’s Beth Israel Medical Center; and Children’s Hospice International.
“We’d known hospice all our lives,” his son Matt Brenner told me, picking up the narrative. Phrases like “quality of life” came easily to him; he’d vacated his childhood bedroom to accommodate that first Florida patient.
The younger Mr. Brenner now lives in San Francisco and was pleased when his father — who’d come out as a gay man two decades ago — moved there to join the ministry at St. Mark’s, where he paid particular attention to seniors. “His passions had been reinvigorated,” Matt said. “I hadn’t seen my dad with that much energy in a long, long time.”
Perhaps that explains why, despite their family’s history, turning toward hospice was a tough decision. The elder Mr. Brenner underwent a supposedly simple outpatient procedure in 2011, acquired an aggressive staph infection, then was diagnosed with colon cancer and received radiation and chemotherapy. A cascade of problems followed: extreme pain, delirium, deep bedsores, a colostomy, extended stays in hospitals and nursing homes.
Hospice had always represented “a rope that was there for us to grab when we needed it,” Matt said. But they waited to grab it for 18 months.
The Brenners had it, too. “He’d been living with joy and purpose,” Matt said of his father. “We’d been offered the hope that he might get better, and we didn’t want to let that go.”
A hospital was virtually pushing him out the door when Paul told his loved ones he was tired and had fought long enough. That is when they called Sutter Care at Home, a local hospice, and on Christmas Day brought him back to his studio apartment overlooking the city.
Once they did, things got markedly easier. “We settled into a peaceful routine,” Matt said. “No more beeping, no more people running in and out.” They hired round-the-clock aides — expensive, but necessary — and relied on the hospice staff for comfort care.
Some readers here have argued that when their time comes, they want a hospital room and a professional staff, not a home death that will burden their families. About a third of people over 65 still do die in hospitals.
The Brenners saw it differently. In Paul’s apartment they had two months in which to share meals, watch nature documentaries on TV and enjoy visits from friends. “The comforts of home,” Matt said.
On Feb. 7, they hosted a party for 24 well-wishers, who came in shifts to say goodbye. The church organist played hymns on Paul’s piano, concluding with “Over the Rainbow.” “Everyone was singing and crying,” Matt recalled. On Feb. 11, Paul — who had baptized both his sons — performed the much-delayed baptism of his 4-year-old granddaughter from his hospital bed.
On Feb. 22, his sister and his sons kept a final vigil, with Bach on the CD player as he’d requested. “When the music stopped, his breathing got shallow,” Matt said. “He left us with a smile on his face.”
In his dreams, Matt told me, he sees his young, healthy father romping with his sons as he used to. “Death is the final stage of growth,” he’d always told them, and they have come to believe it and to feel both loss and peace.
The following provides an interesting look at how grief can continue to exist within us for years if we don’t confront and recognize it. We often misplace our grief behind other emotions in an attempt to avoid confronting our pain. Here is a class from a psychologist with an influence from Buddhist thought.
The Buddha taught that we spend most of our life like children in a burning house, so entranced by our games that we don’t notice the flames, the crumbling walls, the collapsing foundation, the smoke all around us. The games are our false refuges, our unconscious attempts to trick and control life, to sidestep its inevitable pain.
Yet, this life is not only burning and falling apart; sorrow and joy are woven inextricably together. When we distract ourselves from the reality of loss, we also distract ourselves from the beauty, creativity, and mystery of this ever-changing world.
One of my clients, Justin, distracted himself from the loss of his wife, Donna, by armoring himself with anger. He’d met her in college, and married her right after graduation. Donna went on to law school and to teaching law; Justin taught history and coached basketball at a small urban college. With their teaching, passion for tennis, and shared dedication to advocating for disadvantaged youth, their life together was full and satisfying.
On the day that Justin received the unexpected news of his promotion to full professor, Donna was away at a conference, and caught an early flight back to celebrate with him. On her way home from the airport, a large truck overturned and crushed her car, killing her instantly.
Almost a year after her death, Justin asked me for phone counseling. “I need to get back to mindfulness,” he wrote. “Anger is threatening to take away the rest of my life.”
During our first call, Justin told me that his initial response to Donna’s death was rage at an unjust God. “It doesn’t matter that I always tried to do my best, be a good person, a good Christian. God turned his back on me,” he told me. Yet his initial anger at God had morphed into a more general rage at injustice and a desire to confront those in power. He’d always been involved with social causes, but now he became a lightning rod for conflict, aggressively leading the fight for diversity on campus, and publicly attacking the school administration for its lack of commitment to the surrounding community.
His department chairman had previously been a staunch ally; now their communication was badly strained. “It’s not your activism,” his chairman told him. “It’s your antagonism, your attitude.” Justin’s older sister, his lifelong confidant, had also confronted him. “Your basic life stance is suspicion and hostility,” she’d said. When I asked him whether that rang true, he replied, “When I lost Donna, I lost my faith. I used to think that some basic sanity could prevail in this world. But now, well, it’s hard not to feel hostile.”
The pain of loss often inspires activism. Mothers have lobbied tirelessly for laws preventing drunk driving; others struggle for legislation to reduce gun violence; gay rights activists devote themselves to halting hate crimes. Such dedication to change can be a vital and empowering part of healing. But Justin’s unprocessed anger had aborted the process of mourning. His anger might have given him some feeling of meaning or purpose, but instead he remained a victim, at war with God and life, unable to truly heal.
Loss exposes our essential powerlessness, and often we will do whatever’s possible to subdue the primal fear that comes with feeling out of control. Much of our daily activity is a vigilant effort to stay on top of things—to feel prepared and avoid trouble. When this fails, our next line of defense is to whip ourselves into shape: Maybe if we can change, we think, we can protect ourselves from more suffering. Sadly, going to war with ourselves only compounds our pain.
A few months after my first phone consultation with Justin, his seventy-five-year-old mother had a stroke. His voice filled with agitation as he told me about the wall he’d hit when he tried to communicate with her insurance company. They couldn’t seem to understand that her recovery depended on more comprehensive rehab. “There’s nothing I can do to reach this goddamned, heartless bureaucracy … nothing!”
Justin was once again living in the shadow of loss, and gripped in reactivity. We both agreed that this was an opportunity to bring mindfulness to his immediate experience. He began by quickly identifying what he called “pure, righteous anger” before pausing, and allowing it to be there. Then, after a several rounds of investigation, he came upon something else. “My chest. It’s like there’s a gripping there, like a big claw that’s just frozen in place. And I’m afraid.”
“Afraid of what?” I asked gently. After a long pause, Justin spoke in a low voice. “She’ll probably come through this fine, but a part of me is afraid I’m going to lose her too.”
We stayed on the phone as Justin breathed with his fear, feeling its frozen grip on his chest. Then he asked if he could call me back later in the week. “This is a deep pain,” he said. “I need to spend time with it.”
A few days later, he told me, “Something cracked open, Tara. Being worried about my mom is all mixed up with Donna dying. It’s like Donna just died yesterday, and I’m all broken up. Something in me is dying all over again . . .” Justin had to wait a few moments before continuing. “I wasn’t done grieving. I never let myself feel how part of me died with her.” He could barely get out the words before he began weeping deeply.
Whenever we find ourselves lacking control of a situation, there’s an opening to just be with what is. Now that Justin had once again found himself in a situation he couldn’t control, he was willing this time to be with the loss he’d never fully grieved. Instead of rushing into a new cause, he spent the next couple of months focused on caring for his mom. He also spent hours alone shooting hoops, or hitting tennis balls against a wall. Sometimes he’d walk into his empty house and feel like he had just lost Donna all over again. It was that raw.
Justin had finally opened to the presence that could release his hill of tears. Six months later, during our last consultation, he told me that he was back in action. “I’m in the thick of diversity work again, and probably more effective. Makes sense . . . According to my sister, I’m no longer at war with the world.”
By opening to his own grief instead of armoring himself with anger, Justin was finally able to start the healing process. His grief had never gone away; it had just been hidden. Once he was willing to open to it and feel it, his own sorrow could show him the way home to peace. As Irish poet and philosopher John O’Donohue tells us:
All you can depend on now is that
Sorrow will remain faithful to itself.
More than you, it knows its way
And will find the right time
To pull and pull the rope of grief
Until that coiled hill of tears
Has reduced to its last drop.
For the past couple of years, I have had the unique privilege of celebrating Simchat Torah with my residents at the Martin and Edith Stein Assisted Living Residence. As we begin the ritual of the day, carrying the Torah scroll around the Bima (lectern) seven times in celebration of the annual completion of reading the Five Books of Moses, I am always taken with how valuable marching around a Torah Scroll can be for my seniors, whose average age is about 90. Imagine a procession of people slowly making their way around with their canes and walkers with smiles on their faces, singing popular Jewish songs from yesterday and today.
The fall Jewish holidays are coming to a conclusion. Jews have gone from the hopes and wishes of a sweet new year on Rosh Hashanah, to the Day of Atonement, the last chance to be sealed for a good year, to the joys of the holiday of Sukkot. On the last day of this festival season, it is most fitting to celebrate the completion and restarting of the study of the Five Books of Moses, the building block of Western civilization. The fall festivals are a time of renewal. Just like we look at a renewal of the New Year and a chance to start fresh, we also celebrate the renewed opportunity to start our studies anew.
Simchat Torah is the celebration of a verse from the final reading of the Torah cycle; “The Torah that Moses commanded us is the heritage of the Congregation of Jacob” (Deuteronomy 33:4). Jews believe the Torah is their heritage passed along through the generations. It is an inheritance that has been shared with the world throughout the past 2,000 years. Torah is an inheritance that has been the source of much struggle, but more so is also the heritage of joy for the Jewish people. In observing the joy of my residents celebrating with the ideas that have been handed down to them — and that they know they have perpetuated and handed to the generations after them — is something that me, a father of two young children, cherishes each year.
The heritage of the generations is a blessing I wish we all will continue to cherish. As the fall holiday season come to its conclusion, may we all continue to carry the joy of the holidays and the joy of seeing multiple generations in celebration together.
The following study describes how hospice providers are always in need of checking how we respond to the families we care for. Are we simply responding generically or really hearing the particulars in front of us? This is a common question we should all ask ourselves. In chaplaincy training, much of the time there is a continuous need to consider how we engaged with the people in the room at the moment that we are in. It is about being in the present. This is something that requires constant refinement and reflection.
A new study authored by University of Kentucky researcher Elaine Wittenberg-Lyles shows that more empathic communication is needed between caregivers and hospice team members.
The study, published in Patient Education and Counseling, was done in collaboration with Debra Parker Oliver, professor in the University of Missouri Department of Family and Community Medicine. The team enrolled hospice family caregivers and interdisciplinary team members at two hospice agencies in the Midwestern United States.
Researchers analyzed the bi-weekly web-based videoconferences between family caregivers and their hospice teams. The authors coded the data using the Empathic Communication Coding System (ECCS) and identified themes within and among the coded data. The team reviewed 82 total meetings.
Overall, the researchers noted that members of the hospice team tended to react to caregiver empathic opportunities with a perfunctory response, implicit recognition, or simple acknowledgement as defined by the ECCS scale. Most caregiver statements were met with biomedical or procedural talk from the hospice team.
Few responses went beyond to offer confirmation with a positive remark to the caregiver, and even fewer provided a shared experience to address the caregivers’ emotional needs.
Prior research has shown that a physician’s expression of empathy positively influences the patient-physician relationship, but as this study shows, this is often not the norm. Other research shows that physicians tend to respond more to informational cues from patients than emotional cues, and often respond to patient concerns by turning the conversation to biomedical information or medical explanation, nonspecific acknowledgement or reassurance.
“This study shows the need for better empathic communication between caregivers and hospice team members,” said Wittenberg-Lyles, who holds a joint appointment in the UK College of Communications and the UK Markey Cancer Center. “Improving communication about psychosocial issues, emotional losses and frustrations for the caregiver will lead to better patient-centered care for hospice patients and their families.”
Oscar and Ella Wilf Campus for Senior Living, Franklin
A common theme in today’s self-help books discusses our need to slow down and tune out the daily grind of our constantly connected lives. Religious thinkers through the ages espoused the same concept of slowing down in the context of spiritual growth. For example, Jewish prayer practice includes discussion about the need for a full hour of preparation to achieve proper intent during prayer, as well as an hour long cool-down process post-services. Imagine having the luxury of not rushing from one venue to the next when connecting with the divine. Slowing down is often a modern term for giving oneself time to reflect and examine one’s life. A life lived in reflection is a life full of growth.
In my work with the elderly and with the terminally ill, I am often exposed to the grand questions of life through the eyes of people facing mortality. These penetrating questions are frequently expressed in the negative, through what someone regrets when looking back. A recent book was written by a nurse who spent years working with the dying. She highlights the regrets her patients shared with her. The sense of remorse relates to missing out on what each deems very valuable in life. The elderly often try to convey to their descendants how living life constantly on the go prevents one from enjoying the happy and sweet aspects of life, such as spending time with family and friends or leaving a lasting legacy for future generations.
With the upcoming holiday of Rosh Hashanah, which celebrates the Jewish New Year starting on Wednesday, Jews around the world have the opportunity to reflect on how they lived life this past year. The recently retired former Chief Rabbi of England, Lord Jonathan Sacks, offers a very poignant set of questions we need to ask ourselves at a time of new beginning, such as a new year. Regarding Rosh Hashanah, he states, “Properly entered into, this is a potentially life-changing experience. It forces us to ask the most fateful questions we will ever ask: Who am I? Why am I here? How shall I live? How have I lived until now? How have I used G-d’s greatest gift: time? Who have I wronged and how can I put it right? Where have I failed, and how shall I overcome my failures? What is broken in my life and needs mending? What chapter will I write in the book of life (Koren Sacks Rosh Hashanah Mahzor, P. X)?”
New Year’s celebrations can be both joyful and serious. It is a time to start new, and newness always contains a sense of hope. Yet, with a new beginning also comes the fear of what will be, leading people to be deeply reflective about the direction they want life to continue. The task of the New Year is not to let the opportunity for growth disappear. Rather, the Jewish New Year provides opportunity to truly work on improving the meaning and quality of our lives.
Rabbi Bryan Kinzbrunner is the campus chaplain for The Oscar and Ella Wilf Campus for Senior Living, which comprises The Martin and Edith Stein Assisted Living, The Lena and David T. Wilentz Senior Residence, The Martin and Edith Stein Hospice, Wilf Transport and the Foundation at the Wilf Campus. For more information, call 888-311-5231, email email@example.com or visit us at www.wilfcampus.org.