Using Words That Heal
The document he held in his hand read like a lawyer had charged him for more than time and effort. It was the beginning of healing and such benefits would be priceless. Ethical wishes made their way into the legal swamp of bequeathing and here-to-fore’s. His worldly possessions, though few, were distributed according to his wishes. With caution and inner searching, words of "why" certain choices and decisions were made were clarified. A man’s last will and testament also became his ethical will by injecting small doses of his reasons for certain decisions. He was healed of an infection that had rendered him angry prior to releasing his frustration in a document that would be witnessed and acknowledged after his death.
Ethical wills take many forms yet can be the conduit to resolution and completion in our lives and the lives of our patients.
Patients and families come to hospice when the end is usually much nearer than the six month allotment of supposed time and therefore ethical wills are rarely addressed.
Nurses are in critical mode, hurriedly addressing pain and symptoms in an effort to begin working to alleviate emotional pain. Social workers are ecstatic to have actual counseling time but are most likely struggling to make the initial visit or complete the loose ends of other advanced directives and wishes not yet addressed.
The chaplain and volunteers are often requested to not visit until the need is anything but writing an ethical will. The spiritual pain is often lost in silence and never gains ground in being expressed to family and friends.
What is an ethical will? Of biblical origin, the ethical will was once an assignment of blessings and statements from the elder fathers to their sons. Today we see these wills in a disguise of journaling and personal notes.
There is no appropriate or designated format for this type of will. The contents are magical in their powers to heal and the magic is not formed in following specific criteria for form. There can always be healing - even when experiencing the end of life.
A piece of paper, a notebook, or a beautiful handmade leather journal may all serve the same purpose. The words are written to explain the reason for choices made, the expectations of life and family, ideas, forgiveness, explanations.
No formal will and testament gives an ear to the discomforts of the soul, except the ethical will. As an agency or an individual, you can begin the healing of your patients by encouraging the documentation of those thoughts and feelings that have surfaced with the intrusion of death.
The ethical will may take the form of a terminally ill mother writing her blessings and wishes in a journal to leave for her daughter, a young man who wants his siblings to understand his heart and the reasons for actions he has taken as the obstacle of death stands fast in his way, or the couple who have no one but each other that leaves their legacy of love in writing for someone to acknowledge or witness.
It has been said that all any of us really need are witnesses. We need a witness that our life holds great meaning and purpose; a witness that we have loved and are loved; a witness to our life. As members of the hospice community or any health care programs it is an honor to be the witness that our patients need in this new realm of spiritual discovery.
If it is a hospice patient or ourselves contemplating the presentation of an ethical will, some tried and true tips will help move the words from heart to hand to paper with the impact and magic that the compilation evokes.
I often suggest that in writing our life stories it is best to just designate a few minutes daily to writing anything. Let the words flow and then bring them together like a soup. All the ingredients are gathered and the final product is savored given that the brew has time to cook. Unlike the life story journals, the final product should be a stepping-stone to resolution of an incomplete section of our journey. The finality is certain but the journey is not. Make the steps toward completion of information an adventure in discovering the deepest thoughts that have anchored our intentions and actions.
Absolute quiet and serenity will help thoughts bubble up and dissipate. The remaining pieces are slow to rise but will as we practice stillness. Those remnants of thought that do not disappear are the ones to address and to nurture. These are the engines that have given us motivation and fear, desire and dread, dreams and complacency. When we discover or our patients discover these remnants, the dissection of their meaning bring serenity and power.
- Be grateful, find moments of happiness, question why and then document the
discovery and understanding. These are emotions developed into words that will be read by future generations or possibly by only one person. The moment we arrive at our reasons for being, we become our own witness.
The ethical will is the ultimate instrument for eternal wellness. As the master of the tool we hold the ability to assist others on their journey. It is a marvel that words hold such keys to power and that a moment of guiding others to learn to use this tool helps our own healing powers develop. Of all the medicines, words from the soul may be the most potent.
Robin Watts is a hospice care consultant with Regency Hospice located in the serene mountain vistas of Northeast Georgia.