Not to be a Debby Downer, but since February 2nd, eight people I know have died. That includes a dear colleague, my immediate neighbor of eighteen years, and one of my four first cousins. Most of the now-dead were in their early-to-mid 60's...relatively "young" by today's life expectancy standard. Two deaths were expected, but the others took me and others by surprise.
Needless to say, these two months made me again realize that none of us come here to stay, and one thing becomes increasingly sure: the longer we live, the more people we know die.
If you're like me (a Baby Boomer), or minimally getting older (and who isn't?), you might find that what was your circle of longtime friends is shrinking, or more of them are suffering with some malady. Sickness can be scary and lonely, even for those with spiritual backgrounds. So, make sure you are using the time while you're alive to really share with your loved ones not only by text, or other electronic platforms, but directly: Call. Visit, even if only for a short while. Sit and laugh. Reminisce. Look into their eyes. Embrace. Break bread together. Cry together, if needed.
One thing that gives me solace is that I am a good friend to my friends. I call and check on them regularly (as they do me) and laughs abound. If they are ill, I visit them, not as a physician, but as a friend. I cook and take them food. Sometimes I even bring toilet tissue and paper towels because if they've been sick, they just might have run out of some basic necessities.
Remember that some people--even friends--may have a hard time asking for help because they don't want to put people out, be a burden, or maybe be disappointed if no one offers to help. Contrarily, others have a hard time trying to figure out what to do to help, or it may not come easy for some people.
Toni Bernhard, author of How to Be Sick, shared with me a very poignant comment when we shared thoughts about chronic illness. She said, "...not every one is a natural caregiver," and that is so true. Here are some basic tips to encourage you to reach out to friends and loved ones, not only in a time of crisis, but just because you care:
Connect and Reconnect...directly. We live in a world of electronic communication wherein text messages and social network postings rule the day. But I suggest you connect in person and directly. Visit with friends while you both live. Go out for lunch or dinner. Have them over to your home; everything doesn't have to be "perfect." Don't worry about the little things--a little dust, or the dog chewed up this or that. Those things don't matter; it's the togetherness that counts. Take pictures.
Apologize. When a person dies, too often some have regrets of what they didn't say, or should have said. If you love someone, tell them. If you wronged someone, apologize. It's amazing what the words, "I'm sorry" can do to a person who has been wronged or to a relationship that has been neglected. Once they or you are gone, it's too late. Do it today.
Talk; get caught up. Refresh yourself about the family. Call--preferably from a land line when you're stationary and not doing five other things. Give your loved one your (yes) undivided attention. If you must call from a cell phone, focus on the conversation; don't concurrently check emails or de-crud your toenails. You might miss something important in the conversation.
In a time of illness, don't put the onus on the one who is sick; again, they might not wish to be a burden. My rule? Instead of saying "let me know if you need anything," I act in accord with one of my favorite quotes in The Book of Positive Quotations: "...think of something appropriate [to do]...and do it."
Social Media/Social Networking. I admit I'm not a huge fan of this part of modern society, but it's real and here to stay; and many people have, in fact, reconnected with old classmates and family members through Facebook, Twitter, MyLife and other sites. But still, don't let these electronic sites be in lieu of actually hearing your friends' laughs, not just reading/typing 'LOL'; and realize that "sending hugs" or 'xoxo' by text is not the same endorphin-rush as an up close, direct contact, human touch hug of comfort or support.
Prepare. If you were to die today, would your family or friends know where to find your important papers and photos? Do you have a will? Who has a copy of it? Does someone have a key to your residence? (This is especially important if you live alone, as more and more Americans do). Do you want to be buried or cremated? Does anyone know your choice? Do you want a funeral or not? There's a current increase of "no services" for many of the departed. Getting your affairs in order doesn't hasten your death; it just makes it easier for those left behind when you die.
Death is a part of life, and as Valerie Harper said about her recent cancer diagnosis, "Don't go to the funeral until it's time for [your] funeral." In the meantime, remember that "a friend loveth at all times; faithful are the wounds of a friend," so live, love, and laugh with them often.
Copyright © 2013 Dr. Melody T. McCloud. All rights reserved. Feel free to share this post on your social network pages, with author credit and link to this page. Bitly link: http://bit.ly/ZZdJUi. Twitter: see @DrMelodyMcCloud.
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