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Archive for Sunday, September 16, 2001

Witt: Conversations should be started ‘thoughtfully’

September 16, 2001

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How people communicate about death and dying may be grounded in their religious, ethnic or regional backgrounds, according to Doug Witt, clinical director at the Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center.

"They may have different values about how direct to be (when talking about death and dying)," Witt said. "Many people grow up and are taught that death isn't talked about. Children are told (the family member) 'took a trip' or 'went to a better place.' That itself sometimes reflects a difficulty with dealing with the reality of death."

If you are terminally ill, elderly or facing death for some other reason, here are some tips on how to talk about the future:
  • Don't waste time. Share with your loved ones what you'd like to do with the remaining time in your life. Be realistic, but set down your plans in detail and take action.
  • Tie up loose ends. Think about what the unresolved issues are for you with your family and what you can do to achieve some closure. For example, tell someone you forgive him or her for a past conflict. Get closure for the unfinished parts of your life.
  • Tell your story. Make a video or audiotape for your children or grandchildren, telling them stories of your life and candidly sharing your feelings for them.

Witt said it's important to let the grieving or dying person know that you are ready to talk whenever they are an expression that allows the person to feel they have control over that aspect of their lives.

"It's OK to say you are having a hard time and don't know what to say but you want to talk about it," he said. "Sometimes people who are dying are waiting (for you to say something) and need permission to talk about it."

At times a family member and friend will regret that they didn't say goodbye, express their love or ask for forgiveness before the death of a loved one. Witt said this was an important consideration of those personally affected by the terroristic attacks on the East Coast less than a week ago.

"Sometimes we have control over the ability to be with someone and would choose the opportunity to be there, but many times people are not allowed to do this. The crisis brings up how little control we have. So to expect you should have done it differently is a useless burden. (Seek) forgiveness and learning from the opportunity rather than feeling bad about things you didn't do."

So what is the bottom line: How do you get the conversation started?

"Thoughtfully," Witt offered.

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