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Viv Tipton: Let’s talk

Most people who know me know I love to talk. I love to talk about life’s mysteries and life’s certainties.

Ben Franklin said, “In this world, nothing is certain except death and taxes.”

I have little interest is discussing taxes. I am grateful when I get to pay them, for it usually means I have some money coming in or I have just spent some money on something I wanted. What I really like to discuss is death, or better yet — living our life up until our death.



The journey of our life is filled with amazing chapters that we celebrate and explore. The end-of-life chapter can be filled with joy, peace, insight and wisdom, when we allow ourselves and our loved ones the space to explore what this time of life means to us. I find it so fascinating and yet disheartening that so many lose out on the richness this time can provide.

Why do we miss out? Well, to be honest I think it is as simple as we don’t know how to talk about it. We learn our life skills one of two ways, through experience or education. Because death is shrouded in emotional pain, we often want to protect and shield our families from the universal truth of death. So many of us grow up with little exposure to death, however ignoring it does not make it any less true. We are all going to die. Some sooner, some later, some will see it coming, some will be taken suddenly.



Even though we all know on some level that we are eventually going to die, we don’t often acknowledge it. We often spend a great deal of money, energy and resources postponing it. While this avoidance and postponement can be a noble pursuit, there comes a day when the inevitable can no longer be ignored. In that time between acceptance of death and when we actually die, magic happens. Why does the magic happen? Because we allow ourselves to talk about what is important.

November is National Hospice and Palliative Care month, and those of us in the service of end-of-life care reflected on what hospice means to us. A few of the phrases that resonated for the Hospice of the Foothills staff are: whole person care, compassion, courage, gentle, comfort, professional, emotional, spiritual, quality of life … the list goes on. As with all aspects of our life, our final journey is filled with a kaleidoscope of colors and shifting patterns; we need only allow ourselves the grace to look.

Hospice folks are experienced, educated professionals that can help. Be it physical, emotional or spiritual, they bring comfort to the whole patient as well as their family. You do not have to do it alone; you just have to have the talk.

It can be very scary to introduce the idea of hospice care to a loved one, as it is often confused with giving up. I know when my father and brother were diagnosed with terminal illnesses, there was a part of my brain that thought if we just avoided talking about death, we could stop it from happening. Luckily for me, my father and my brother were both very wise men. They knew the journey they were on and were able to teach me a thing or two as we journeyed together until their deaths separated our physical beings.

They shared with me what was important to them, who and what they loved on this earth. They made peace with their transgressions and their brilliant accomplishments. All our conversations during that magical space has built the emotional quilt that comforts me when I ache for their presence. This experience built upon my education, and nurtured and developed my comfort level and curiosity regarding the end-of-life journey.

I challenge you this November as your family gathers close, be it in your protected pod or via Zoom, grant each other permission to talk about end-of-life curiosities and concerns. Talk about what is important to you, what values resonate for your family. Listen for those precious openings to take the conversation to a deeper level. I have discovered the joy and the deep satisfaction of this sacred journey. My life is far richer for having talked.

Viv Tipton is the executive director of Hospice of the Foothills.


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