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Good Endings

By Helene Goldberg

I met a patient I’ll call “Hazel” in the 1970s. She was like the grandmother I wish I’d had, so caring and thoughtful. Hazel went from one major catastrophe to another until she told me she no longer wanted further treatment. She wanted to be allowed to die.

I reported that to the ICU team. The next morning on rounds, doctors stood outside her room, presented her case and then went on their way. They didn’t even say hello. The chaplain stopped them and said, “She doesn’t want treatment, and now we don’t even say good morning to her?”

They all went back and said hello, but I remember thinking, “There has to be a better way.” That’s how I got interested in end-of-life care.

I’ll give you another story. “Anne” was really worried that she’d be forgotten after she died. We talked about things that were important to her, and one turned out to be a collection of beautiful scarves. She went home and attached to every scarf the name of a loved one who should receive it after she died. Simple, right? But she was a different woman afterward—this was about Anne’s truly facing up to the fact she was going to die and taking control.

I can’t emphasize enough how important it is that we pay attention to the end of life and help people make the most of the time they have.