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Changing Reality

Unleashing the creative imagination can transform the experience of dying for the individual, families and loved ones, and caregivers.

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Changing both the environment and how we move through the dying process with someone is not so much a design problem as a challenge and opportunity to create a different reality by unleashing creative imagination that truly connects with the person who is dying.

A friend related to me how his father died. It was necessary that his father be in the hospital; the exact place where his father said he didn't want to die. The son quickly and thoughtfully went about changing the room, sights and smells and sounds. He started with different, ambient lighting, switching all the flouresent lights off. He brought in colors and textures, including his father's clothing and bedding; he had life-sized blow-up photographs printed of his father's main heroes, and arranged them around the bed where his father could easily see them. His father had played in a symphony orchestra, so he set up a system to play his father's favorite music. He also brought in fresh, natural smells that overtook the antisepsis or artificially fragrance-free room.

Anyone--family, friends, caregivers--knew that they were not going into a hospital room when they entered that space. What's more, they were welcomed and invited into that experience, to a place of ease and wonderment rather than one of dread and fear.

This person was not a set designer. He was a loving son who dared think and act "out of the box" many years ago.

The capacity to maintain communication with the dying person when they can no longer communicate with words is another opportunity for creative thinking and intuition. When a brilliant friend who was a scholar and counselor was dying of brain cancer at her home, she was still able to communicate by pointing at pictures. She still looked at the newspaper, and in her last few days, unexpectedly pointed to a photograph of a horse. Her friends somehow managed to get her chemo-bloated self into her beloved van, and out they went, on a ride into the country in search of horses. They also toured some of my friend's favorite places on the lakes surrounding the city where she lived. After she died and her friends had prepared the body, they took her back for one last tour of those favorite places. This creative and loving group of friends did this almost forty years ago.

Both of these stories illustrate how we can thoughtfully change or transform perception and reality to create an experience of dying that deeply speaks to the person who is dying and the persons around them. Imagination, flexibility and spontaneity are useful tools that can open up a different set of possibilities, inviting in gratitude and joy.

What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

Don't be limited by challenging circumstances, but be willing to think and act outside the norm.

Tell us about your work experience:

I have worked as a part-time chaplain specializing in end-of-life care and bereavement for twelve years.


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