FIVE VIRTUES STRATEGIES
FOR END OF LIFE
(excerpted from Graceful Endings)
The Five Strategies of The Virtues Project are practices that bring virtues to life. They help us to live authentic, purposeful lives, to raise children of compassion and idealism, and to create a culture of character in our schools and communities. In the journey of grief and death, they are tools for navigating with grace.
Strategy 1 Speaking the Language of Virtues
Language has the power to discourage or to inspire. The Language of Virtues is a vocabulary of love and meaning that affirms others. It is a way to acknowledge, correct, and thank. At the end of life, it gives us specific terms for thanking others and saying goodbye. It is also a tactful but powerful way to avoid criticizing while requesting correction or changes in behavior.
Virtues are a frame of reference -- or more accurately, a frame of reverence for life -- a way of thinking, being, acting and speaking that brings strength and hope as we grieve. It is a way to make our choices in the most meaningful way. It is the oldest language of the world, found in all the world's sacred texts. It contains the words that describe our spiritual essence.
"Your patience is amazing." "What gives you this serenity?" "Speaking to your aunt on the phone would be a kind thing to do." "Please use your tact when you aren't happy with something I'm doing." "Thank you for your faithful friendship."
Strategy 2 Recognizing Teachable Moments
Life is school, and everything that happens is for our learning. At any point in time, we have both strength virtues that are well developed and growth virtues that we need to develop. Recognizing the virtues in which we need to grow, especially in painful or challenging situations, helps us to live mindfully, to be lifelong learners, open to our soul work — that which gives us meaning and purpose. It is an attitude that keeps us from shaming ourselves or dwelling on guilt. We use guilt only as a signal for change. We call on the virtues that can heal our wounds, enrich our relationships, and help us to make amends after a mistake. Being open to teachable moments prepares us to face whatever happens with receptivity to grace.
"What virtue do I need now?" "What would give me the endurance to live through this?" "What do I need in order to find forgiveness for my father?" "What is the gift in this illness?" "How do I prepare for death?" "How do I lovingly care for my grief?"
Strategy 3 Setting Clear Boundaries
Setting boundaries based on respect and restorative justice creates a climate of peace, unity, and safety. We are clear about what we are willing or not willing to do in a situation, and what we will or will not tolerate from others. Boundaries guard our time and our energy. When facing loss and death, we need boundaries that protect the needs and rights of the dying person and everyone involved. We need a just approach to resolving inevitable family conflicts. Virtues-based boundaries guide us through the difficult end of life decisions. They help caregivers to remember self-care. They nurture family unity at a critical and sensitive time by focusing on what is right and needful under the circumstances.
"I need to decide who I feel comfortable seeing." "How do I schedule my day of caregiving to get enough rest?" "When is enough chemo enough?" "As I write my will, how can I be considerate and fair to those left behind?" "What will free me as a caregiver to obtain respite care for my loved one, so that I can take a break?"
Strategy 4 Honoring the Spirit
Honoring the spirit means first of all preserving the dignity of each person, with courtesy, kindness and respect. It also involves daily spiritual practices, such as a routine of reverence, which can be the heart of the dying and grieving process. It is planning personalized ceremonies, integrating virtues into our daily activities. After death occurs, it is creating a meaningful celebration of life. Paying tribute to the virtues of a loved one is the primary way people of all cultures honor our dead.
"Who needs to hear from me and how can I acknowledge them before I die?" "What would I find inspiring to read or listen to in my daily sacred time?" "How can we design a personal celebration of life that really honors our loved one?" "Shall we celebrate while they are still alive and able to witness it?"
Strategy 5 Offering Spiritual Companioning
Being deeply present and listening with compassionate curiosity supports individuals to heal during the journey of grief. Cup-emptying "What" and "How" questions allow the dying and the grieving a safe outlet for their tears and whatever they are feeling. Companioning provides an opening for the dying to do their life review and to make end of life decisions. It is a gift we can give one another that helps us to accept our feelings, our losses and our victories as well. It is the single most important tool caregivers have to offer the dying and the bereaved.
"What's on your mind today?" "What's the hardest thing about this?" "What is your deepest feeling today?" "What gives you comfort?" "What are you proudest of in your life?" "What are you grateful for?"