Dr. Al Danenberg ● Nutritional Periodontist
June 17, 2019
Philip S. Danenberg
April 14, 1914 – December 6, 1983
My dad was diagnosed with idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy in early 1980. In those days, his condition was considered incurable. I went with him to his cardiology appointment when he learned of his diagnosis. As his doctor discussed the dismal prognosis, I saw the pain and loss of hope in my dad’s eyes. The physician basically said that there was nothing that could halt the progression of the disease, which would lead to death. I wish I knew enough to talk to my father about other options. I did not, and we never spoke of it.
Over the next couple years, his quality of life slowly declined. Sadly, my mom never allowed a discussion about his terminal illness. She was in denial and stayed in a state of denial.
When he began to deteriorate quickly, my mother continued to refuse us as a family to discuss his impending death. To her, “death” was a word never to be spoken. She prevented my sister and me from discussing life and death specifically with our dad. My mother also never had one-on-one discussions about death with him. He never was given an outlet to express his fears, his desires, his concerns, his last wishes, or his beliefs and disbeliefs about his transition after life.
Since my mom was in total denial, she would not allow hospice to be called in to help my father die peacefully with dignity. Bringing in “hospice” would only confirm that he was dying. And she refused to let him know of, or discuss, his mortality. However, I’m sure he knew.
Today, hospice is a well-equipped, all-embracing, empathetic way of approaching the end of one’s life. The hospice team can provide care in the patient’s home. Staying at home in a loving and familiar place could make all the difference for the patient’s emotional comfort.
Hospice’s directive is to keep a person with a terminal illness comfortable until death. In addition, the hospice staff will support the entire immediate family by offering assistance in many ways – both physically and emotionally.
When the time is right, the doctors and nurses of hospice will provide pain relief using various medications including opioids. Opioids progressively reduce severe pain and also suppress respiration.
Dad’s Final Days
I saw the hopelessness and fear in his eyes during his final weeks of life. I didn’t know what to do. My father was in and out of the hospital many times. One time, his doctor said he would die that day, but he then rallied and was able to go home. Still, my dad never could talk about his innermost feelings since my mother didn’t allow the opportunity.
A couple of days later, he was back in the hospital for the last time. I was with him in the hospital when his physician was “pushing drugs” into his intravenous drip line. My dad’s head was turned to the right, and he was looking straight up into the corner of the ceiling. He just stared at a point where the ceiling met the wall. His head never moved from that spot. His eyes glistened and teared. He never spoke. I never knew what was going on in his mind. I was distraught. I never was given a chance to talk with my dad on his deathbed.
That was the last time I saw him alive.
I felt so helpless in those last weeks of my dad’s life. After that emotionally draining experience, I swore to myself that I would never allow anyone to be denied the ability to talk about his or her death. Death is a normal course of life. How could anyone deny a healthy conversation about death and whatever lies beyond death?
Today, I am open and communicable about my impending mortality. I support family discussions about death. I encourage emotions to flow and questions to be asked. When the time comes, I will welcome hospice into my life.
In the meantime, I’ll continue to make awesome memories for my family and myself – all the while striving to heal my body from my incurable bone marrow cancer.
 Hospice was included as a Medicare benefit in 1982.
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What an emotional post. Lost my mom almost two years ago to a stroke she lost her speech and couldn’t swallow any food it was devastating as she couldn’t express herself either, we also never spoke about death and when it happened we didn’t know what to do, about a year later I witnessed a death of a friend at the hospital who had not one family member by his side and I served as hospice while in hospital. I feel that you have so much to give and teach in this world that for sure I pray to the Almighty that the Medicinal herbs and huge faith will keep you here for many years, wishing you and your family the best Blessing.
Al, my stepmother was in denial for my fathers bone cancer too. Fortunately, I was able to take him to all of his doc/treatment/lab appointments, and we used that time to deeply talk about the path to come. His humor (through the tears) helped to diffuse the sadness.
As his daughter, I am left with the memories of all of those intimate moments between us. It’s a true privilege to walk this path with a loved one, but it takes tremendous courage to initiate the hard conversations.
I congratulate you on your courage and the wonderful clarity you will leave behind for those that you love.
Those memories help me get through the hard days (like Father’s Day) and remember how fortunate I am to have had a “world class dad”.
Thank you for sharing your story. I’m sorry for the loss of your father and the lack of communication surrounding his death. Having just lost my second parent, my father, in March, I’ve been through the hospice experience a second time. Is it only covered for 6 months? It seems that that number scares people away from hospice because they don’t want to admit that’s all the time that is left, even when they *know* it’s unlikely even to be that long. It seems that everyone waits and waits to allow in the assistance that they desperately need, waits until *everyone* is miserable. God bless all those hospice workers who help wounded families deal with something they’re afraid to confront! We all die and it could be much more unexpected than a slow death from cancer, so we might as well talk about it! God bless you and the time you have remaining with your family . I hope it’s joy filled.
Thank you for sharing Dr D – as I was reading this I am fighting back the tears. My mother has lung cancer with brain mets, diagnosed a year ago (67 years old).
This is such a tough discussion to have with a loved one, but if left too late – everyone is worse off. I think it’s incredible of you to open up this kind of conversation. So tough, I’m not quite there myself, but i know it needs to be faced head on.
Stay strong, keep fighting.