Welcome to the site – Journey with a Dying Parent. I dedicate this site in honor of my dad, Bill Pukatch, who passed from this life on January 21st, 2015, at the age of 87. It‘s my personal belief that our souls continue on, and the next existence is more beautiful than anything one can imagine. I also believe that our loved ones who have died have surprising ways of contacting us, letting us know they are fine, and that their connection with us is eternal. I received a profound message from my dad about a month after he died, and several more since, and my sister has also had profound indications that Dad is still guiding and inspiring us. These are the reasons I’m writing a book, and the reasons for this website.
My intention is for this site to serve as a place of support, information and sharing for adults as they are currently accompanying, anticipating accompanying, or have previously accompanied their parent through their dying process. This site can also be a resource for professionals in the medical, psychotherapy, grief counseling, hospice, nursing care and related fields as they work with adults and their families during the difficult process of a parent dying. In addition, I will share excerpts from my book, Hydrangeas from Dad: Inspirations for Staying Present, Staying Close and Dignifying a Dying Parent, which is currently in progress. I hope to contribute something new to the existing information on grief, death and dying – the focus on family experiences as a parent is dying, seeing the dying parent as still active in the family and finding ways to honor the dying parent until their very last step across the threshold into death.
In my work as a family therapist for over 30 years, I have learned that family experience is the most powerful influence in our lives, regardless of the quality or status of the relationships. I have heard countless stories from people who, along with their family members, have gone through the events of their parent’s dying. How the family experiences a parent’s dying becomes another powerful influence, and it is one that completely unbalances the family’s customary way of functioning. The emotional impact of a parent’s dying produces sadness, grief and loss that must be attended to. Then, the functional disruption through a parent’s dying and death forces the family, sometimes against its will, to: re-structure the hierarchy, leadership, roles; re-organize day-to-day living arrangements, routines, chores; and determine whether the values and rituals established by the dying parent will live on in the family, or if new values and rituals will be created. If the dying parent was the hub of the family, this unbalancing will feel more intense and the restructuring may take longer, with the possibility of more conflict.
A common theme that I’ve heard while working with adults experiencing a parent’s dying, is, in fact, the presence of intense conflict, often leading to detachment, which then overshadows the family’s ability to stay fully present with each other and with their dying parent through the final stage of their parent’s life. While it is natural for strong emotions to arise during stressful life experiences or when fears are strongest, I have wondered if this emotional intensity could be managed to reduce or avoid conflict allowing for more moments of family harmony, togetherness and healing while a parent is dying. Perhaps if the family experienced more closeness, members were better able to focus on the present moments with each other, and they personalized their parent’s dying process, the result of this supportive interaction could facilitate healing and closure, and contribute to a more successful family re-structuring after the parent’s death.
But, what factors create the difference between conflict and harmony when an elderly parent is dying? What could be done to encourage more healing and less conflict? What influences the way family members relate through their parent’s dying? Can some guidance be offered? Can there be some preparation? These are some of the questions I have pondered for years and now offer to our readers as we take this journey together to find ways to encourage more dignity, closeness and healing with less conflict and detachment while a parent is dying. I think that answers to these questions can be as diverse as family systems themselves; and I look forward to hearing your thoughts, feelings, questions and stories in the discovery of staying present, staying close and dignifying a dying parent.
In the next blog post, I’ll talk about my personal experiences with getting “the dreaded call” and the realization that my world would be changed forever.