by Ginger McMurchie, ECMNCA Owner & Care Manager
Many of us believe that we have important thoughts and ideas to share with the world. We offer advice and guidance to our spouse and children, we interact with co-workers and we have lengthy and often meaningful conversations with our family and friends. With all the words that are being exchanged, what do we hear? What words do we allow into our hearts and minds?
At our staff meeting this morning we discussed the “messenger”. The messenger is the person who has a thought, a piece of advice or wisdom to share. The messenger can come wearing many hats- they can be a spouse, a child, spiritual counselor, medical professional, friend or even social media. The question that we wrestled with is which messenger do we listen to? Who finally brings us the message that we take to heart and reframe as our own?
Delivery of the message plays a crucial role in what human beings hear. If we are being told by our loved ones during a time of heightened emotions that there is a serious illness, the true meaning of the message might be swept away by our feelings of fear, inadequacy or hurt. For some of us, the issue lies in that we cannot be good listeners because our own personal thoughts and agenda overwhelm our ability to listen. Being a good listener means that the voice inside our minds must quiet in order to discern what we are being told. We must be able to “try on” the advice or counsel to see if it is a good fit for us or our loved ones. We need to take time to look at whether the message is being directed towards us or if it is being offered for the benefit of another.
A good example of hearing multiple messages would be decisions made around end of life care. Families are often overwhelmed with information related to treatment, side effects, and potentials for a cure. The discussion of end of life wishes can get lost in managing the struggles of getting through each day. In the ideal world, all families would have ongoing conversations about what their end of life scenario might be while they are still in good health. But life is not predictable, and discussions are often put off. If we are given a diagnosis of cancer, an inoperable tumor, or Alzheimer’s disease we can be thrown into a state of panic and our ability to listen and absorb information shuts down to allow for thoughts of coping and survival.
Knowing what you want your life to look like and understanding what your loved one’s wishes are, can empower difficult decisions to be made with confidence. It can also mean that the messengers you are being sent bring much needed services to you and your loved ones in a timely fashion. Statistics have shown that most individuals access hospice services in the last two weeks of their lives. For many families, having hospice brings a safety net of supportive care including a nurse who comes to the home, a home health aide for assistance with bathing, a chaplain and a social worker. If we can open our minds to listening without a preconceived agenda and make room in our hearts for difficult conversations and choices, we might find comfort and support that we did not know existed.