Author: Rosalyn Neranartkomol M.Sc. in Gerontology from USC
6th year medical student
Origin/affiliation: Medical University of Silesia in Poland
Death and dying are complex subjects that everyone must contend with at some point in their lives, however, it is even more poignant in the working life of a geriatrician. Facing a frail elder we are often faced with the decision to continue treatment or to call for hospice, the prospect of such a dilemma was what lead me to Zen Hospice Project (now known as: Zen Caregiving Project) through Dr. BJ Miller’s TED talk.
I was fortunate enough to have had an opportunity to attend some of Zen Caregiving project’s classes prior to the pandemic. While I was not a caregiver at the time of the training, I sincerely appreciate the space that was created during the training for participants to process the emotions that arises within themselves from caregiving of an ailing relative, many whom are terminal. Avoidance and denial are often the defense mechanisms that keep us from having difficult conversations in our society about the onset of old age, infirmity, and death; therefore, being able to be in a space that celebrate conversations around these subjects was freeing. I hope as a society we can learn to openly discuss death so that we may overcome our fear and better design a way to age and die with dignity.
After losing my grandparents in the hospital setting, I wondered if there is a better way for families to go through such a harrowing period in a more humane setting. It compelled me to agree with Dr. BJ Miller’s idea about re-designing how we pass away to create an appropriate space to deeply grieve far from the harsh hospital lights, beeping machines, and numerous tubes. It is inevitable that sometimes the hospital will be the place we draw our last breath, nonetheless in cases where decline is imminent and certain, a home or hospice setting may be the superior option. The pandemic has exacerbated these questions for me as well, although I am not working in the frontline but seeing what care providers are going through via the news is gut-wrenching. If death in unavoidable, what can the acute care setting do to provide comfort to caregivers to process the onslaught?
Perhaps there already are settings that provide for this, please share your thoughts in the comments.