Lessons for the Living

Lessons for the Living
Stories of Forgiveness, Gratitude, and Courage
At the End of Life

Author: Stan Goldberg, Ph.D.
ISBN #978-1-59030-676-5

Stan Goldberg is a very interesting person – a professor emeritus (Professor Emeritus in Communicative Disorders at San Francisco State Univesity) who suddenly finds himself diagnosed with prostate cancer. His Gleason score (a system of grading prostate cancer tissue results) places him on the cusp between living and dying – a very rough place to be! Support groups and books are not helping him, so he follows his intuition and becomes a hospice volunteer. (Goldberg has worked as a bedside volunteer at the Zen Project Guest House, the George Mark Children’s House, and Hospice By the Bay. He currently works with Pathways Home Health and Hospice.)

So here he is, working with people who are going through the same life/death scenario he is, and working in an environment (the hospice setting) that he himself may one day end up in. This is a deeply personal book – filled with stories from Goldberg’s own life, and the stories of the patients that he works with. It is an emotional book, yes, but not necessarily a sad one.

It addresses an area of life that is still not too often discussed. We have certainly come along way with the work of people like Elizabeth Kubler Ross, but death and dying is still an area of life that many, if not most people try to avoid addressing.

Through Goldberg’s experiences we learn about the gifts that witnessing dying gives us – those of compassion, understanding, and embracing the act of dying.

I found it incredibly interesting that the work that Goldberg does now is that of coaching both individual and corporate clients on how to effect change more efficiently. The first thought that came to my mind was “cutting through the debris of life”, which would certainly go along with learning to face any major life issue. In the web of life, Goldberg has made the connections!

Goldberg has broken this book down into the following sections: Forgiveness, Letting Go, Unconditional Giving, Heart Communication, Faces of Compassion, The Dilemma of Hope, Undifferentiated Love, Forgiving and Epiphany. Each carries a story of a specific patient, or group of patients, that he has served.

There are two running stories here – those of the hospice patients, and that of Goldberg, and the lessons that he learns through working with them. Both stories are given excellent voice. In fact, he stopped me in my tracks at one place in the book. Through some bureaucratic maneuvering, a hospice that he worked at was being closed down. They were taking no new patients, but the time was coming near when the remaining two patients would have to go to another facility. What Goldberg was saying was that in his mind he wanted to place himself in their shoes, to see how they were feeling. What I was reading was that he could no longer function at home, that the hospice was his last resort. I am sitting there going “This cannot be happening! There is half a book to go – he can’t go into hospice now!” I had to go back and reread the material to see that he was not in a hospice himself, that he simply wanted to see how these patients must feel. That was incredible writing!

In “Letting Go”, we get a first hand view of forgiveness between a mother and adult daughter, and a literal letting go of the past. We have to let go of how we were in the past to become who we are in the present.

In his epilogue, Goldberg quotes the noted author Marion Wright Edelman: “Service is the rent we pay for living, It is the very purpose of life and not something that you do in your spare time.”

Goldberg also presents practical suggestions for working with those who are dying. Amongst them are:

· Relax – don’t be too concerned about doing the “right things”.
· Be kind to yourself – take breaks, and acknowledge all of your emotions.
· Sit when talking – this allows your eyes to be on the same level as the patient, and makes for better personal contact.
· Reduce noise – the less distractions, the easier it will be for the patient to deal with his/her condition.
· Create a calming environment – surround the patient with objects, music and smells that are comforting to them.

At the end of the book is a listing of helpful resources – books on a myriad of subjects, hospice agencies, and hospice volunteering and training.

I cried my way through this book, even through the positive stories. The reality of reality is a very moving thing. This is a “must read” for anyone facing the care giving for a terminal patient. It is a very positive book, and allows the reader to see the hospice picture from the point of view of both the patient and the care giver. This is a reference book that can be returned to time and time again.

© June 2009