We all die and have to get better as a country in preparing for that inevitable part of life. That reality has spawned a new online advice column – "The Checkout Line" – by longtime journalist and hospice volunteer Judy Bachrach. Here’s more about her and the impetus for this first-of-its-kind online advice column:
I am a longtime journalist, who has worked – in chronological order – for the Baltimore Sun, the Washington Post Style section, the Washington Star where I was a political columnist, and Vanity Fair, where I am currently a contributing editor.
When one of my closest friends was dying of cancer, I began work at a hospice, where I was a volunteer. There I did just about anything and everything to help the patients: I read to them, helped fix their small meals, wrote letters on their behalf. I spoke to their families, their lovers, the nurses and sometimes their religious advisors, a few of whom were not welcomed by those they wished to visit. Above all I listened: not only to what the patients said to me but to what they often didn’t say.
There’s a lot that the dying cannot articulate, and not simply because some are depressed or others too weak to talk. There are moments when they simply see no more use for talk. But after a while, anyone who spends time with the patient can sense whom that person wishes to see, whose visits might best be cut short, who should be avoided, what topics should be discussed. All these elements can be learned and shared.
Until I worked with the dying, I had always been afraid of death. Initially, I thought that perhaps by dealing with those who faced a more imminent mortality, my fears might be eased. As it turned out, they were. But that was by no means the most important result. That experience changed my life. I would like to do the same for others.