Caregiving expert Patricia Smith on planning a celebration of life for a terminally ill loved one.
QUESTION: My husband’s sister, Janine, has ovarian cancer and is not expected to live beyond three months. She is still mobile and seems to want to enjoy as much of life as she can. With that in mind, I invited Janine, two other siblings and three nieces and nephews to be houseguests for three days for some quality of time together, sort of a celebration of life. They have all accepted and now I’m wondering how to go about planning such a weekend. I know Janine tires easily, but several of the guests are young and full of energy. What do you suggest for activities for this very special, but very sad, occasion?—Helena
ANSWER: You are very kind to host this celebration of life that promises to hold many wonderful memories in the years to come. My first thought: Build in a number of options and choices for your guests. Weather permitting, plan a number of outdoor activities. Fresh air will energize and create a healthy environment for both Janine and her guests. If you have a lawn, set up a bocce ball or croquet set. This will allow Janine the choice to play, or sit and enjoy watching others. If there is a seashore, lake, river, bay or even a running stream nearby, plan a picnic lunch one of the days. Again, water offers everyone choices—swimming, wading, body surfing, sand castle building, or enjoying the sunshine. Keep menus simple and healthy. Go continental style for breakfast with juice, fresh coffee, tea, bran muffins, fruit, yogurt and granola. Most guests welcome lunch buffets with sandwich fixings, salads and fruit. Do you know Janine’s favorite dessert? If so, either prepare or purchase the sweets at a local bakery. She will appreciate the effort. If you can accommodate everyone at your dining room table, choose to serve dinners family-style. Casual dining provides an atmosphere where good conversation can take place. Welcome lazy afternoons where nothing is planned. Build in some time for Janine to nap or rest. Your guests can rest as well, or choose to take a walk, a drive or even go to a movie. Keep plans very flexible, take everyone’s wishes into consideration, and both Janine and her guests will have a visit to remember.
Patricia Smith is a certified Compassion Fatigue Specialist with 20 years of training experience. As founder of the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project© (www.compassionfatigue.org), the outreach division of Healthy Caregiving, LLC, she writes, speaks and facilities workshops nationwide in service of those who care for others. She has authored several books including To Weep for a Stranger: Compassion Fatigue in Caregiving, which is available at www.healthycaregiving.comor Amazon.com.