Heavy going, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross On Death and Dying.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross' work can be helpful during these trying times.

Life’s been a heavy slog recently.

Between my father-in-law’s final days and death on Friday, Mom’s being in the hospital for two weeks due to congestive heart failure, and trying to help Aidan during a particularly intense part of junior year, I’ve become more familiar than ever before with the concept of the sandwich generation.

At times, I’ve felt like a big piece or roast beef, or tempeh, for the vegetarian-minded.

I’m very fortunate to belong to two families with plenty of love, support and strength. Dunreith and her family showed tremendous compassion and unity in making Marty’s final days as peaceful as possible.  As I mentioned yesterday, my brothers Mike and Jon have done yeoman work with Mom during her hospitalization and since she came home on Sunday.

Even as  I feel pride and admiration for their actions, though, I also find myself feeling a swirl of other emotions.  While in Evanston, I struggled to try to keep life normal for Aidan while supporting Dunreith, her family, Mom and my brothers at a distance.  Information was ever-changing and incomplete.   I’ve wished I could be in Evanston, Western Mass. and Brookline at the same time, and have always felt part of my heart in at least one other place, no matter where my body is.

This is not to say that there have not been bright spots.  In addition to the ones I listed, Marty’s death on Friday was merciful for him and for the family.  Dunreith has received remarkable support from her supervisor and colleagues.  The family on both sides can know we have done what is possible.

To a large degree, these experiences are the proverbial cost of living, of living long enough to make it to middle age and parents to arrive at what my dad, in a recent email, called the “gravy years”-those years after 70 beyond which he felt he had already lived a long life.

Natural though they are, they still hurt.

A lot.

The kind of hurt that Dave Russell wrote this morning both cuts to the bone and can provide a spur to appreciate being alive as fully as possible.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ seminal work, On Death and Dying, articulates five different stages of the death process for people who go through it: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.   The book has gained widespread acceptance since its publication in the late 60s.  Based on the Swiss psychiatrist’s clinical work at the University of Chicago, On Death and Dying notes that the stages are not sequential, linear and clearly demarcated, but rather interconnected and flowing. 

She also notes that not everyone arrives at acceptance, even though she makes it clear that she considers that to be a desirable state.

Kubler-Ross’ book focuses more on the dying people than on their family members, and she does link higher levels of family support and connection with generally more peaceful deaths.

I’ve not read it in a while, but am considering doing so. In the meantime, I’m working today to help Mom get a bit more acclimated in Day Three and heading back tonight to be with Dunreith and her family.

Amidst the pain and the loss, there is joy, too.

Josh’s wife Rebecca will give birth tomorrow to their third child.

The generations continue.  We will keep doing our part while we are here, be grateful for the love and support we have received, and keep learning from each other and thinkers like Kubler-Ross to help guide us along the way.

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