To Infinity and Beyond

According to Katie, who has spent 20 years working for Hospice, travel metaphors are very big with dying people. When patients start talking about taking a trip, it can be a signal that they are preparing to go. They often start getting agitated, wanting to pack and go “home.” Sometimes they worry about not being able to find their suitcase or their clothes or the map to guide them. Sometimes they think they’re late. Another hospice nurse tells of an avid golfer who told her he had had just gotten an invitation to play a tournament in a foursome with his father and two brothers, all of whom were dead.

As a caregiver, you can help by assuring your patient that she’ll have time to pack or that you’ll find that suitcase and map. Days before he died, my Dad, who had been a career Air Force pilot, started fretting about not being able to fit all of the passengers into his plane. I assured him there would be room and he’d be able to safely fly them all, which calmed him down. Katie’s father, who had always lived by the ocean, talked about going on a boat trip but worried that there was no one to captain the ship. Katie and her sisters told him that they would captain the boat and it would be a beautiful journey.

Sometimes this talk can alarm caregivers. They worry that their loved ones are losing their minds. They aren’t. They are doing the hard work of preparing to leave this world.