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  • In my Masters Program at college I had to take a course called Death & Dying. I was kind of excited about it as I had already done a hospice internship and thought I wanted to be a hospice social worker. (PS I went back to college later in life so this wasn't that long ago).

    The professor came up with this project right at the beginning. She said each of us had to give ourself some type of terminal diagnosis and write on it in the first person as though we were experiencing it. Each week we focused on different parts; such as initial diagnosis and dealing with that, then the treatment phases, then dealing with insurance and expenses, then anticipatory grief for ourself and family members, then final arrangements, then the death and aftermath - sort of an afterlife reflection.

    One part of me thought, "What a creative assignment." The other part of me thought, "omg!"

    I gave myself an obscure, though possible diagnosis. I immediately had a problem, though. I believe that one's words and thoughts have power and can become manifest. That is the basic principle behind prayer and faith. I actually have had direct experience with that; ie, words and thoughts manifesting - both positive and negative. So generally, I am careful with how I use my words and how I put power behind my thoughts.

    So...I went to the professor and told her I felt compelled to put a disclaimer at the front of my paper, that this is an exercise and not real. She looked at me and grinned with a quirky smile and said, "Ok" (sort of like, ...whatever floats your boat).

    So I proceeded. The exercise really was quite powerful as I found that, even with my disclaimer, it became a very personal experience. Some of the feelings, thoughts, and reactions I had, surprised me. I found out what was important to me and what wasn't. By the end I had my funeral planned and I enjoyed having some input into it (some of that is in another cowbird story).

    The thing I worried the most about was my son and how he would cope and his grief, and how he would get along in life without me, as I have always been a strong vocal advocate for him. I didn't think much about my husband and felt he'd likely remarry and be glad of it, after a prerequisite time of bereavement.

    But when it was over, the exercise that is, I realized I would be a better social worker for having done this crazy assignment. Not that it was the real thing....but it had made me face myself, and my feelings and fears and hopes, in a way that I'm sure I wouldn't have otherwise.

    I ended up going into Home Health instead of Hospice, but daily I see many people with serious illnesses that are going through many of these same processes which are frightening to face. And I hope they can feel my empathy - as sometimes tears well up in my eyes because I find myself feeling what they feel.
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