Steps toward healing
witf.org, | 06.26.14
The Drew Michael Taylor Foundation, created in the wake of the death of Drew Michael Taylor in 2006, aims to help children affected by tragedy. At a recent dinner celebrating the foundation's fifth anniversary, Pulitzer Prize winner and Philadelphia Inquirer staff writer Michael Vitez talked about his experiences while writing a book about those who triumphantly run the so-called "Rocky" steps.
Vitez is best know for his 1997 work on end-of-life decisions which was recognized with one of the highest honors in journalism. Here is a conversation on the takeaways.
What characterizes the moments at the end of someone's life?
"What they went through is sort of a universal thing. In death, in dying, at the end of life, there is incredible richness. Life gets very real. There's no time for B.S. Relationships get much deeper and richer and hatchets get buried and all kinds of problems get worked out at the end. You can see how profound a time that was for them at the end. What you see at the end ... it's a very sad period, but it inspires incredible good things that follow and incredible good works get done as a healing by families and by people."
How does family find peace at the end of life?
"You think of it as a sad time, and it is a sad time because somebody's at the end of their life, but dying is absolutely normal. People accept death and they deal with it and they come to peace with it. And that's a beautiful thing actually to see, and the best deaths are the people that are able to accept it. What you see a lot of times is it's not the family member comforting the dying person, but it's the dying person comforting the family. And it makes it a lot easier for the family to continue when they see how at peace they are."
Have you found differences in the way end-of-life decisions play out?
"What a person wants in theory and what a person wants in practice changes. You may think you don't want anything, don't want any extraordinary measures at all. (But) when you're up against it, you may realize that 'Wow, I do want to fight.' And then the exact opposite is true. You may say 'I don't want this, stop.' People often don't even know their own mind, much less the mind of their son. It's best to start before there is a crisis."
What should be going on now that isn't?
"The most important thing is to talk. I can't say how many stories I've read (that) they wish they had known what their mother or father or brother would've wanted. It's a huge burden you're taking off the shoulders of your family by communicating to them what you want, or what you think you want. So when the time comes, they're not carrying this burden, they're just carrying out your wishes. It's much easier on them. You're doing your family a huge favor. When the moment comes, they'll be much more at peace knowing that they know your wishes."
Transforming Health is an educational partnership of WITF, Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center and WellSpan Health and PinnacleHealth.