The Last Desires Of The Heart

Connecting with patients

Doug Overall, chaplain & bereavement coordinator for Compassus – Prescott Valley, shows why it’s so important to really listen to patients.

The Final Stages

Sally’s admission to an inpatient hospice unit threatened to botch a previously scheduled wedding shower for her granddaughter. Sally felt she would die before the actual wedding took place, so she had looked forward to hosting her granddaughter’s wedding shower in her home.

Seeing that Sally’s condition was worsening, the hospice staff offered their lounge and waiting area for the wedding shower so that Sally could attend. The wedding shower was moved up a few weeks and held down the hall from Sally’s room.

With assistance of some hospice aides, Sally was able to attend the first 30 to 45 minutes of the wedding shower in her wheelchair before tiring and returning to her room to rest. Less than 15 minutes later, Sally had crossed over into eternity. The desires of her heart had been granted.

It’s often difficult to think about dying, let alone talk about it. When someone we love or are providing care for is dying, it’s hard to know how to help — what to do, what to say. Yet, if we take the time to truly listen to what loved ones, friends and patients are expressing, they will often supply us with, “the desires of their heart.”

It also helps to simply ask the patient, “What are your wishes, your desires? Who do you want to see? What would you like to tell your loved ones? Is there a place you want to go? What projects or tasks do you want to complete?”

By keeping an open mind and listening carefully to our patients as they journey through their final stages of life, we can begin to understand what they are communicating, through conversation, brief suggestions or wishes, or symbolism (dreams, seeing deceased loved ones, wanting to pack some luggage or take a trip).

Most of the time these final wishes provide insight to what dying persons need for a peaceful death.

As we listen, we can learn how family members, friends and caregivers may be used as a channel of blessing to those seeking to prepare for their departure.

Sometimes patients wish to express the most simple and meaningful expressions of everyday life, such as, “I love you,” “I’m sorry,”

“I forgive you” or “You’re welcome.”

Inquiring about final wishes may be one of the most important and caring things we can do. For many people, the end of life is a call to complete unfinished business. It offers a time and opportunity to reflect, remember and celebrate relationships and life-accomplishments and choose their legacy.

This article originally appeared in Everyday Compassion magazine. To browse full issues of the magazine, click here.