Mar 232012

Holy QuranOur world has changed so much: we are all multicultural now, with all the richness and confusion that creates. One area where this creates a challenge is when it comes to making response around a death. Co-worker, family connection, fellow student: we may be uncertain what is culturally appropriate when encountering the death of someone whose background is different than our own.

My first suggestion on this front is to ask directly what might be best appreciated. The second is to do a little research on the internet or make a phone call to an ethnic association or associated place of worship. It is worth the trouble to get this right if you can. Flowers, for example, may be a perfect choice for a Buddhist but are wrong for a Muslim.

Below are some guidelines for response in some settings:

Muslim condolence

Attendance at services is seen as a significant sign of respect and compassion. You offer spoken or written words about the good qualities of the one who has died and offer wishes for peace to those remaining. Do not send flowers.

Japanese condolence

Traditionally those who attend services for people of Japanese descent bring a gift of money in a special black and silver decorated envelope. The money is usually used rather than new.

Buddhist condolence

Observances of a death may be more celebratory for Buddhists because of their belief in reincarnation. Flowers or donations to the family are appropriate in the case of the death of a Buddhist. Do not provide gifts of food.

Jewish condolence

Gifts of food are appropriate during Shivah, although the food must be kosher if the family keeps kosher. Donations to identified charities is also appreciated. Do not send flowers.

Hindu condolence

The traditional condolence gift to a Hindu family is fruit. At a Hindu service expect to have to remove your footwear.

Protestant condolence

Protestant Christians appreciate a note or words of sympathy, flowers and/or meals for the family. A donation to the church or an identified charity is also appropriate.

Catholic condolence

Particular to the practice of Catholic Christians is the option to make donations for special masses to be said in memory to benefit the soul of the departed. Otherwise they appreciate the same condolences as Protestants.

This list doesn’t cover all the varieties of custom but points out a few of the kinds of differences one may encounter. It will always be appreciated if you attempt, at least, to accommodate the cultural traditions.

How about you? Do you have a story about giving or receiving an act of condolence that was out-of-keeping with the tradition? Any advice for others?

Mar 062012

Medical iconA 2006 study (Steinhauser, et al) sought a “practical, evidence-based approach to discussing spiritual concerns in [the context of] a physician-patient relationship.” The issue is a critical one in relationship to end of life care. Even the World Health Organization insists that appropriate palliative care “integrates the psychological and spiritual aspects of patient care.”

Caring for the dying

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Feb 212012

Skyscape of cumulous cloudsWhat do people with advanced cancer, congestive heart failure and end stage renal disease have in common? According to researchers, they all testify to the importance of emotional and spiritual issues when facing the end of life: not surprising for many of us.

What is interesting is that people said this kind of thing whether they had a particular religious worldview or not. No matter the patient’s gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, education, marital status, mood, diagnosis or self-reported health, they tended to acknowledge the importance of specifically spiritual issues when facing death. Which begs at least one question: “Exactly what, if it crosses so many assumed religious and life experience lines, is spirituality?”

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Feb 142012

Image of gnarled tree rootsI had a clergy friend who was once contacted by a funeral home to do a funeral for a man he had never met. He agreed and proceeded to contact the widow and to arrange a funeral-planning session with her and any other close family.

As was his custom (mine, too, when planning a funeral), he settled a few matters about the funeral and then asked the family to tell him about their husband and father.

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Feb 102012

Image of CPR with mannequinGuest Contributor: Viki Kind

4.  Think about the kind of death you are choosing.

With CPR, you might not have the opportunity for a peaceful and profound death experience. When you picture the last minutes of your loved one’s life, do you see strangers straddling the patient on a bed, pushing on the patient’s chest, while the family waits outside in the waiting room? Or do you see a time with family and friends gathered around the bedside, with words of love being expressed, music being played or prayers being said?

The CPR decision is about more than medicine.  It frames the dying experience for the patient and the loved ones.  I would encourage people to balance the chance of CPR working and bringing the person back in a good condition with the desire for a peaceful and dignified death.  This is other reason why healthcare professionals wouldn’t want to die by CPR; there is nothing peaceful or dignified about this type of death.

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Feb 072012

DefribullatorGuest Contributor: Viki Kind

CPR or cardiopulmonary resuscitation used to be very simple to understand. Cardio stands for heart, pulmonary stands for lungs and resuscitation means to revive from death. When a patient died, someone would push on the person’s chest to try to restart the heart while giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to help the person breathe. Over time, CPR has become more complex as healthcare professionals have discovered advanced ways to try to bring the person back to life. What seemed like an easy question, “Does the person want CPR?” has turned into a more complicated decision.

What do you need to know to make a good decision?

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Feb 032012

Sillouette of person with arms outstretched and head back against glowing lightWhen I was diagnosed with cancer—years ago now, I am happy to report—I faced an inner crisis of meaning. Sitting on the front step alone at 2:00 am, I realized with a profound shock that the cancer didn’t MEAN anything. It didn’t mean I was good or that I was bad. It didn’t mean my life mattered more or less than anyone else’s: it just happened.

No Meaning to be Had?

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Jan 312012

Reading glassesShe was a very savvy, determined woman who had been a medical professional and served on a variety of boards and committees. We’ll call her Joan.

Yet, for all her intelligence and savvy, as Joan lay near death in a palliative care ward after battling cancer for 11 years, with a house in her name and two adult kids who’d been living with her, she did not have a Will prepared. A visiting friend casually asked if she had all her affairs in order and she said, “Not exactly.” Not exactly, indeed!

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