I'm caring for an incredible 72-year-old man who's accepted his end-stage lung cancer. He confided to me that his wife and children don't want him to die now because they need him. I know he's upset but I don't know how to help.-K.S., OKLA.
It sounds like he's comfortable talking to you about his dilemma, so here's what I suggest. Ask him if he'd like you to help organize a family conference at his bedside. Many terminally ill patients express irritation when they're excluded from discussions about their situation, so avoid hushed whispers out in the hall.
If he agrees, gather everyone together in his room. Break the ice by acknowledging how difficult it must be for family members to face losing their beloved husband and father. You might identify an indication of his declining condition: "Unfortunately, Mr. Baylor's breathing problems are getting worse."
Let them absorb this information, then say, "Mr. Baylor, can you tell your wife and children what you told me about being tired and ready to go?"
His words have more impact if the family hears them from him, rather than from the nurse or physician. Gently remind everyone that they can make his final days more peaceful by letting him know they'll be terribly sad when he dies but that they'll be okay.
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"Come close, hold his hand, and let him know how much you love him."
Help them gather 'round. Hold them together, like rafts adrift on a stormy sea, then step back and trust that they'll give him their best.