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Saturday Big Rides With Bob: Emotional Care and "Final Chapters"

Posted by Joe Antle on May 17, 2021 7:50 AM EDT
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Going through the final stages of life with someone you care about is a very difficult process and like many things in life....

....most people who become deeply engaged in this "final chapter" in support to someone they care deeply about usually are not prepared for the "road ahead".  There are probably a lot of reasons why this is so, perhaps two have to do with the tendency most of us have to put off difficult and unpleasant activities, such as proper planning for one's one "final chapter' and that of someone we deeply care for and the complexity, cost and emotional toll that entering and moving through the final chapter of a life well-lived brings to those who deeply care for the person.

Having recently lost someone dear and experiencing the trauma of loss, its expense emotionally, financially, and spiritually, I found myself asking Bob the question one would normally ask someone who is thought to be wise in general and experienced in the topic.  After all, Bob had shared with me in previous bike rides when speaking of my loved one's severe decline, that he had experienced such a thing with one of his parent's and was in the process of navigating the "final chapter" with another person he deeply cares for now and over the course of recent years. 

What are the keys and perhaps best practices for those helping others navigate the "final chapter" and what can one do to ensure that the long-term care for someone they have cared for deeply for a long time is the best it can be?

In his typical fashion, Bob paused and reflected for a few minutes as we pushed ahead on our bike ride.  I couldn't help but notice that the pace of our ride slowed down just a bit.  Finally, after what seemed like quite a while, Bob began to respond to my question.  He first made the observation that it was a worthwhile question, not just because of the very recent experience of our loss, but the relevance of the fact that we also now need to turn our attention and focus to the other survivors of that loss, most notably of course in our case and in many other people's cases, the surviving spouse.  And the fact is, that while it is one of life's truths that we will all ourselves pass from this world and that if we are fortunate will do so with the involvement of people who care about us and for whom we care deeply and have much trust and faith in.

By way of observation, I have begun to observe that Bob's remarks come with a couple of characteristics.  One is that he will often explain that he is not a certified expert and that there are many sources of information.  The second observation is that his list of thoughts typically includes three perspectives.

And that was the case with this question....what are the keys to properly helping someone you care deeply about navigate the final chapter of their lives?

His first suggestion was that one should first strive to identify the areas where there is a deep risk for discomfort, loss or potential undue pain-physically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually.  And then take action to create a "firewall" of sorts around that issue or set of issues.  Because long-term care is so complex, heavily regulated, and emotionally traumatic, there may be a wide range of issues around which to build these firewalls.  And while each person may have a different set of such issues, starting with the essential elements of wellbeing as a framework, identifying risks, and building "firewalls" to mitigate those risks by focusing on physical, financial, social, community, and spiritual wellbeing would make sense.

Bob's second perspective was one that seems so obvious, but is something many of us don't do well in our active daily lives, much less in a supporting role to the person we care deeply about going through their "final chapter" and those who provide the professional care, whatever that may mean in the person's circumstance.  He suggested investing lots of time in deep listening.  Not just in casual conversation, but in truly taking time-lots of it-to listen to the person and respond with relevant questions and clarifications and confirmational remarks where appropriate.  While Bob didn't actually say it this way, my interpretation is that this is not only a deeply rich experience for the person being cared for as it is for the person doing the caring.  These investments of time may become a great source of comfort, knowledge and appreciation for the person providing care AND the person being cared for.

Finally, the last set of advice really grabbed my attention.  We agreed that much of the work of the caregiving support group is focused on the financial, physical and social nature of the task.  These are complex for the physical needs can be overwhelming as well as the financial burden.  And making sure the person going through their personal "final chapter" has an opportunity to connect with others in an appropriate way is important to consider and do well.  

While Bob did not necessarily label it this way, what struck me about his remarks on this third bit of wisdom was the concept of "emotional care".  Focusing all your activities on mitigating the risks to the key elements of the wellbeing of physical, financial, social, community and spiritual wellbeing, means that one must spend similar focus on providing "emotional care"....bu investing lots of time in engaging, robust and interactive listening and attending to the emotional care of the one you care for the caregiver and the person being cared for have the best opportunity to make the "final chapter" one that brings deep value to both.

After all, it's been found that some of the best aspects of learning are derived from the lessons of experience, perhaps those lessons can be garnered from the lessons of experience of another person as their life is celebrated and better understood in the "final chapter".

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