Wellness in the Face of Death


“Health is a state of body. Wellness is a state of being.” – J. Stanford

People who are dying can still have good energy. When I see my hospice patients, I see them not for their illness or age, but for who they are as spiritual beings. As a spiritual being, you can live well and die well, even until your last breath. Wellness encompasses your attitude, your energy, your wisdom, and your resilience.

I had one patient, Don, who died on June 15, 2018. Don embodied good energy in dying. He was passionate about life and he loved his family and friends. Don died from lung cancer. He called his disease, “garbage.”

I met Don about six months ago. I work for Ridgeview Hospice, a department of the Ridgeview Medical Center system in Waconia, Minn., where I am a hospice massage therapist. I see patients in their homes, in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. I am part of a hospice team that provides end-of-life care and comfort for patients and their families.

Don wanted to live in his home until the end of his life. On my first visit there, I caught site of his collection of angel figurines. He had them on his kitchen window sill and in his living room. Don said he believed angels, especially the ones here on Earth. He loved to meet his four “angels” for coffee every week. He also had a few angels in heaven — including his wife and son.

Don was resilient. When he was born, he said he was going to die. Literally. He was born with a congenital growth disorder. He had some physical delays, such as walking, and fatty tumors appeared in his left arm and hand when he was 3 years old. His life was always on the edge because the tumors could turn into cancer. Don was surprised that he lived to be 85 years old.

After meeting Don, I couldn’t help but smile. His energy was contagious, and he had a great attitude. He said every day was a good day. What got him through life? His family, having fun (he loved the casino), a sense of humor, and God. Don thanked God over and over. He was so grateful for his life.

About 15 years ago, Don said that he didn’t know how to pray. But after his wife died, he started to pray every morning and night. He said, “God guided me through all this stuff, so there must be a God.” He said his life is like the “Footprints in the Sand” poem. God carried him through his most difficult times.

Don gained faith and wisdom from the Bible and God. He did not fear death. He said, “Dying is the easiest thing in the world.” However, like all my hospice patients, he wanted a peaceful and pain-free death. His wish came true. He had a calm and peaceful death.

When I started working as a hospice massage therapist, I heard the saying, “People die as they have lived.” I agree with this quote. Some people are planners, and they plan out their life until the end, some are emotional and tearful, and some are resilient and live longer than predicted.

The main lesson is that each person and each death is unique. Also, we need to remember that we are in this together. Birth and death are part of our human destiny.

Regarding his death, Don said, “I know where I am going. You can’t stop it. But I’m going to have a good time while I’m still here.” Don was happy about the hospice services he received.

“Hospice is one of the better ideas,” he said. “If you have this ‘garbage,’ then get help, get hospice. If it’s the end of your time – go for it. It’s the best thing you’ll get until you die. Then it gets better for yourself. Maybe not for family and friends, but for you.”

I suppose disease and illness can seem like garbage at times — you don’t want it; no one wants it. Throwing it away and never looking at it again can seem like the best thing to do. And, yet, something perceived as negative and worthless can help you spiritually heal and transform your life. When you are ill, you do not take anything for granted. Most of my hospice patients hold on to the good times when they are sick, and they are thankful for the little things in life.

“Some people are afraid of dying,” Don said. “It’s the last thing on Earth that you do. Don’t rush it, but it goes fast anyhow. You can’t get away from it.” You must accept your fate. The main lessons from Don: trust God, treasure your family, treat life like an adventure, gamble a little, express gratitude, and love people.

Don was so brave to face death with a positive attitude, bright energy, wisdom and resilience. He had love in his big open heart. Like most people, his life was challenging. However, he decided to live well and die well.



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