Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, End-Of-Life Care, living with chronic illness

A Different Kind of Cafe

When someone asks you to meet them at a café you assume you’ll have coffee and delicious pastries. What if the menu at the café is new and there is no food on the menu. The menu consists of topics of conversation, questions yet to be answered, and an open honest environment where what scares you can be brought out in the open. That’s the café I attended yesterday, The Death Café.

The Death Café started in 2010 in Europe, by Jon Underwood, and has become a global experience. There are approximately eight hundred Death Cafes across the globe. The Death Café is a gathering of those interested in discussing anything and everything related to their beliefs, opinion, and concerns about death and dying.

We live in a culture that has come to focus on living “the good life”. We haven’t quite figured out how to live “the good life”, so why would we think about anything remotely related to “a good death”. We don’t discuss death on any regular basis and when it enters our sphere we’re disoriented and the emotional and spiritual pain we experience can be excruciating.

My work as a psychotherapist for the past twenty-five years has been in the arena of chronic and life-threatening illness. I’ve had thousands of conversations with people about death and dying. These conversations have served as my own personal question and answer session, always renewing and revising my concerns and beliefs about death and dying.

It’s interesting because on my recent family vacation I had a long conversation with my father about my plans for when I die. It has changed over time, but reaching a place of peace is important. It allows me to make plans reducing stress and anxiety for those in my life who will eventually make those arrangements.

The Death Café format was interesting. Anita Larson, the organizer, had anyone who wanted to write a question on a card that was put in a basket. One-by-one the questions were picked out of the basket and the floor was open for anyone and everyone to respond. People were open, honest, and forthcoming.

Having an environment that allows us to take the mystery out of death and dying is critical to living “the good life”. How can we live “the good life” if we’re twisted with anxiety about death, something we have little if any control over. The saying is true, the only thing we have to do in this lifetime is pay taxes and die, so why give the IRS a leg up on what causes us anxiety?

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Posted in Emotional Health, Spirituality and Health

Illness and Anxiety

Waiting can be the most anxiety producing element of any diagnostic process.  Most who are having surgery are scheduling the surgery and that gives you too much time to think.  There is something to be said for the emergency surgery where your brain doesn’t get in the way by throwing all these life scenarios in front of you giving you too much time to ponder the negative.

I received a call today from the mother of a client.   The message basically said that the client is in a state of perpetual “death anxiety”.  I can understand the fear of undergoing surgery and then waiting to come out of anesthesia hoping for the best but preparing for the worst.  In the meantime I often wonder how is the client living his life?

The wake-up call is the doctor saying you need surgery.  What do you think about during the time between notice that you need surgery and the actual surgery?  This young man is telling me that his biggest fear is leaving behind a young child.  If that’s the fear then what are you doing to day to instill all the “right stuff” the child will need throughout his life?  What values are you demonstrating?  Do you light up every time the child walks in the room?  (these are the things the child will remember)

The truth is that until the surgery is done we sit in the “waiting room of life”.  This holding place is not as pleasant as the green room of a TV set, the food in most cases won’t be very good.  It’s at these times that we are reminded about how small we are in the Universe.  The truth is that in the grand scheme of things we’re insignificant, except to those we love and care about.   That being said, isn’t it important to make sure that every day is spent fulfilling your dreams of generativity?  What’s your legacy going to be?

Obviously the hope is that you’ll have a long time before your legacy is reflected upon, but don’t think that even if you’re healthy that your legacy isn’t being created on a daily basis.

You may think that distraction works to alleviate the anxiety.   The truth is nothing can take it away, but by sitting with the fear and understanding what’s under the fear will help reduce its intensity.  Let’s face it, we’re not going to be conscious of our death.  The Ancient Greeks felt that the way to the Good Life was to meditate on your own death, and yet we try and keep it beyond arms length.

What would happen if it came in a little closer?  What can you do today to reduce your anxiety by being mindful of the moment your living in, right now.  Don’t throw NOW away!