What Death Has Taught Me About Living
By: Jenny Steinkopf
I believe there is something about death that reminds us how to live. Personally and professionally, I have watched many people walk their journey as they or their loved one reached the end of life. It is an honor to be with someone in their final days, weeks or months here on earth and watch their loved ones process, share stories and memories, and celebrate their loved ones life. To me, those are sacred and holy moments. Please don’t hear me say death is always good. I fully acknowledge the hard and uncomfortable places that are part of the journey as well. As I’ve shared these sacred and holy moments with friends, family, patients and their families, they have taught me many things about living. Today I will share three of them.
For most of my life, I tried to do things perfectly. I wanted to always say the right thing, do the right thing, fix problems and make people feel better. Then I became a hospice nurse and realized that’s not my job, not to mention it’s impossible. I quickly learned when someone is battling cancer or going through a hard time, nobody expects you to say something profound and eloquent, do a grand gesture or fix what they’re going through. Sometimes, it’s as simple as sitting with them, being present and acknowledging what they’re going through sucks. Pardon my language, but sometimes that’s how simple it is. Just be there. Instead of saying, “Let me know if you need anything,” just do something. When a family has a child with cancer, I’m not sure they even know what they need because their world has been turned upside down in a way we can’t fully understand. Think practical. Helping may look different depending on how well you know the family. Life doesn’t stop just because a child has cancer. Groceries still need to be bought, Laundry still needs to be done. The lawn still needs to be mowed. Send a gift card for gas, the grocery store or a local restaurant. I still remember a patient’s family who was so touched by a neighbor who mowed their lawn and dropped off a bag of groceries. Not only was it a practical help, but a reminder that someone was thinking of them. Do something.
Several years ago, I helped facilitate a support group for parents who had lost children. Over and over again, I heard parents say how much they loved hearing their child’s name or hearing people share stories and memories about their child who had died. If you’ve read Jil’s (Jane’s mom) posts, she has also shared this before. You won’t make her sad by mentioning Jane’s name. She’s thinking about her already so to have someone say her name out loud reminds her Jane has not been forgotten. Isn’t that true for all of us? When your name is said out loud, it means someone sees you, knows you and remembers you. Say a name out loud.
Math was one of my favorite subjects in school because if I knew the right formula, I could solve any problem. The same formula worked for the same person for any problem. Newsflash: grief does not come with a formula.
There are just as many formulas for grief as there are people because we all grieve in different ways and in different time frames. It’s messy some days. The same smells, sounds and objects that remind a mother of specific memories of her child may be completely different from what the father thinks of. The Little Rascals and A Goofy Movie are probably just cheesy 90’s movies to most people, but for me, a reference to either movie reminds me of my cousin Ryan, who died when he was 19 years old after a long battle with cancer. I spent summers with Ryan and his younger brother and sister and we watched those two movies often. Something ordinary and mundane for one person is the reminder to another of a child no longer on this earth. So give grace.
These three things certainly relate to helping someone walking through the journey of pediatric cancer, hard times in general or grief, but they can be done with any person at any time! What would the world look like if we all followed these three simple things?
Say a name out loud.
Jenny Steinkopf loves Jesus and people. She would love to hear your story because everyone has one and each one matters. She currently works with Time to Revive, a non-profit ministry based out of Dallas, Texas, but has worked as a nurse in the hospital, home care, hospice and clinic settings. She enjoys paddle boarding, camping, reading a good book in her hammock and spending time with family and friends.