Fleeting Thoughts

I read a blog post this morning that inspired me to post in response.  http://www.everythinginspirational.com/nursing-home-paid-their-respects-funeral-director/?utm_medium=partner&utm_source=swnpgs&utm_campaign=elderly

There are certain subjects that become taboo and customs we take on because we feel we might offend someone or make them uncomfortable within society.  I think the backdoor departure policy of deceased individuals might qualify as one of these. When I read this post this morning, I reflected upon my own experience with deceased family members leaving care facilities and gave some thought to how this is done.

The morning that my dad died, I was at the Royal C. Johnson Veterans Memorial Medical Center in Sioux Falls SD.  I noticed a stretcher parked in a side hallway, off the wing where my father was located. On the stretcher was a body waiting for transport. The body was shrouded completely and appropriately with the American flag. I recall the flag rustled a bit as I came down the hall, bringing my attention to the body, as I was moving to exit the wing.  Reflecting upon my father’s death, I processed the fact that this wasn’t the body of my father.  I knew this because I had just come from the room where my father’s body was located. My brother and I were waiting to facilitate the removal of my father’s body from the VA hospital, transporting him back across state lines. I was making my way toward the waiting area down the hall when this was body was brought to my attention. Anyway, I remember having some fleeting thoughts as is common considering the circumstances. I remember thinking this man may have died the same morning as my own father. Wondering if he had any family, or if he would leave the shelter of the VA to be buried alone.  I remember wondering if I had met him in the hallway or talked to him in the elevator.  This could have occurred over the years I had transported my father here for appointments or visited my father during his stays.  I wondered if my dad had known him.  

Although I reflect upon my own experience here, I think many people have had to transport loved ones out of nursing and health care facilities after they have died.  These end of life experiences are unique and more difficult for family members compared to end of life experiences which occur in a family home or hospice situation.  Having experienced death in both settings I think deaths that occur in family homes and hospice offer a humanistic component of family and the shelter of community and home.  There is a feeling of harmony and enrichment.  Compared to circumstances where people wait alone in strile rooms and are removed from facilities without family to facilitate the removal of their body or see them off.  Although it may not qualify as dehumanizing to leave in secret, out the back door, it does seem to break down the human components of family, community and belonging during departure.  Still in any setting the need to remove a body and how to go about that can seem socially awkward but cannot be avoided.  Even though these situations feel awkward, there are simple procedures that add human compassion and dignity to this process, such as a front door policy, enriching families and loved ones with a feeling of community, humanity, and culture.  In cases where their is no body, this level of respect seems more honorable.  In all instances the “front door policy” seems respectful and dignified.

I am not sure many people think to ask when entering a facility how they would depart if they should pass, but I am sure few would want to be secretly let out the back door.  It seems honorable and respectful, especially with our nation’s veterans to have them leave through the front door, saluted by the men who knew their sacrifice best and the community that cared for them. I can say that on the morning my dad died, I saluted this man, my father’s brother in arms, though I have no idea whom he was.  It took only a short pause in the hallway. I am sure many would have done as much, if given the opportunity.

My own father left the VA that morning in a tunnel designated for the “back door departure. I made that walk with him. I think though, he would have liked to have gone out the front door. I can see him smiling about that.  I can see him saluting the flag he served as he tells me the story of his departure from a building and community of people that provided his health care for over 50 years.  I think he would have liked that.

I think it’s ironic that the level of care and compassion we receive in life, does not often extend into death. 

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