An intimate look at the process of dying

Many people avoid talking about it

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Death is a tough topic. Most people are afraid of the dying process rather than the actual death itself.

But it’s one of the few things in life that you can actually count on.

“We’re all born to die, from the minute we’re born we start out on a road to death,” said Amy Betros, co-founder of St. Luke’s Mission of Mercy on Walden Avenue in Buffalo.

Among other things, the mission offers spiritual support to the sick and dying.

Betros firmly believes that death doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

“We mourn for ourselves; for our loss,” she said. “Because when you love someone and you’re close to them you don’t want to be alone. The real healing is death because when you die you become perfect, and that is your real healing.”

For many, death is a topic shrouded in uncertainty and fear. Experts say that prevents a candid and open discussion.

“There’s a tremendous fear in and around what happens at the end,” said Kelley Clem, a patient advocate with Hospice Buffalo in Cheektowaga. “Most people think that death is associated with pain. So, they worry about what it’s going to feel like physically.”

John Becker and Barbara Minneci learned to have open conversations about death with their mother, Patricia Kuerzdorfer, 80, who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

“I don’t know what comes after death, I really don’t. But just to me, while you’re here, just be peaceful,” Minneci explained. “We have that with my mother, and I have no fear.”

John Becker says his mother’s condition became overwhelming for the family, and that hospice made sense in terms of managing her symptoms and overall care while giving family members the time to concentrate on expressions of love and other emotions.

“There’s all kinds of emotions in there. Concern for her, love for her. But there’s also guilt. Did I do the right thing? Am I doing the right thing?” he said.

Patricia, who was involved in the hospice decision, says she was never in denial about her failing health and the limited time she had left.

“I knew that was more or less a death sentence. Yeah, I knew it. But at 80, I mean, what isn’t?” she told News 4 during an interview earlier this month. “Think about it; you don’t have much of a future at the age of 80.” she said. “We’ll just let it run its course. If it’s like three days, fine. If it’s three years, fine. I’m going to fight it, but not with surgery.”

Kelley Clem says those emotions are a normal part of a loved one’s end of life journey for both the patient and family.

“That whole sense of unknown on all fronts really is a daunting thing to try and understand,” Clem explained. “So much of the fear is just being able to get it out and to say it exists and to put it out in front of you. Many, many times the things that they fear the most are things that we can say, guess what, it doesn’t happen that way.”

Patricia is determined to cherish every moment with her family, and make the most of the time she has left.

“I don’t want to talk about me, or my ailment. And I don’t want them to be afraid. Do not be afraid,” she said. “I can’t think, to be honest with you, of one person that I really dislike or I hope dislikes me, that I’ve done any injury to anybody that I regret. I don’t think so. So, you have no regrets. You meet your maker…as he made you.”

John and Barbara understand the importance of using the gift of time they have with their mother for as long as it lasts.

“Sometimes people die and they don’t know they’re going to die, and they don’t have a chance to tell someone they love them or they’re sorry or whatever they want to say,” Minneci said.

“Death is inevitable for all of us,” Becker said. “Deal with it as graciously as you can.”

“I just want my mother to be comfortable which they made sure of here at hospice. Pain free and no anxiety,” he added. “I want her to pass naturally when it’s her time.”

About two weeks after the interview was conducted with News 4, Patricia Kuerzdorfer died peacefully with her family by her side at Hospice Buffalo.

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