It’s not just a technique

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The text is a transcript of Haesun Moon’s 2019 SOLWorld pre-conference presentation.

In June, 2016 in Canada it became legal to choose to kill yourself as the end of your life. If you met the criteria for terminal illness and all those things, then that became an option. And what was interesting, that on May 30th in 2016, it was illegal to do that. And June 1st, 2016, it was now legal to do that. So doctors, nurses, social workers, all these people that belonged to a college, they were trained how to deal with this, when patients talk about: “I would like to choose medical assistance in dying.” That was an option. And we were looking at what was actually happening. That’s what they tought would happen. Patients would talk to the doctor, the nurse, the social worker, and so we trained them all.

And then what happened in reality: patients talked to people who had time for them. Which happened to be people that come at around the similar time during the day to clean their room. They’re mopping the room and say:

– Hi Mrs Jones! – then Mrs Jones says:

– Hi.

– How are you doing today? – and then Mrs Jones says:

– I don’t know. I’ve been thinking… Maybe it’s better for me to die.

So cleaners got to hear about it first, before the doctors and nurses. All the serious people had no idea. Second group of people were those who deliver lunch. At the same time: volunteers. And what was troubling is, they didn’t know how to respond. Out of their great heart they said: “Think positively! Think positively!”. And the patients were like: “I don’t know what that means.” So they brought me in to introduce Solution Focused dialogue for patients who were thinking about suicide. So I was talking to them (them being the patients) about the upper quadrant. I got to sit down with the patients and said:

– What would you really suppose that you can somehow have your way… What would you like to see? – and the patient said:

– I would be dead.

Quadrant one: I would be dead. And I was thinking: okay, if I was to take that as a destination, I would say: “How would you do that? What are the next steps?” But taking it as a departure point, I said: “So what are you trying to end by dying?” And when I asked that question, patients – all these patients that I interviewed gave me three top answers.

  1. I want to end pain and suffering.
  2. I want to end family burden.
  3. I want to die with dignity.

So when I heard that, I thougth: this is crazy! There’s so much more to the story. I worked with these patients and some of them were my age, some of them were my parents’ age, and you know, when you have patients that remind you of someone you love, or remind you of yourself, that’s way-way more…

So I remember having that experience with many patients who were my age, choosing to die and going through the process. But still, that was other people’s story. That was not my story. Until this January. This January came about, and my dad was coughing quite a bit, and I urged him to go see a doctor, and I attended that appointment with him, and the doctor actually said… The doctor said the most weird… She was so weird, because we were sitting there, and we were not expecting any bad news, and I was there to translate. I was translating for my dad. Because my dad studied English Literature – he doesn’t speak a word of English. So I attended that session so I can translate for him. And as soon as we sat down, the doctor said:

– How are you? – and I’m like:

– I don’t know, how are you?

The doctor was stuttering… She was acting so weird! And I was thinking, okay what’s going on here, come on! And she says – this is my least favorite word: unfortunately… She said:

– Unfortunately, your father has cancer. – so I’m sitting there between my father and the doctor. “You’re father has cancer”, and I looked at her – “I’m thinking…” And she just looked at me, and I felt this “puck”, and then my father asked:

– What is she saying? – so I turned to my dad, and said:

– They’re suspecting something more than what we thought. –  Poof. I could not say the word: cancer. That “you have cancer”. It’s so interesting, how we’re so considerate, when we actually talk to people. And that’s what happens in medical conversation, but this is my conversation, with my father. “They’re suspecting something more than what we thought.” And his face dropped. And he’s like:

– Like what? –  and then I have to deny. I notice myself smiling, and it’s like: “Could be like… A cancer?” And I remember feeling this lightheadedness, and I’m thinking: what is going on? My hand was shaking. Then I took this note… I actually had my notebook with me, and I said, I have to write down something, and she said, it’s adenocarcinoma. And I’m like: “what? Can you spell it for me?” And my hand is shaking, and then she took the notebook from me, and then she said: “let me spell it for you.” So she wrote it down, and I looked at her writing, and I said, “you have a nice writing.” I was competely out of it.

So on our drive back home and sitting at home my dad is suspecting cancer. And he was like:

– What if I only have a month left? What if I only have this… What if I die? – and I have way more information than he does. He has stage four lung cancer. He doesn’t know that. He didn’t know that. An then I was sitting there. I spent seven hours with him, and I coudn’t even say a thing. And then he said:

– I really wish I had just about two years. If I had just two years… – and then that tiny little habit: suppose.

– Dad, suppose you did have two years, what would you do with it? – and he had this big sigh.

– I will keep my promise that I made to your mama. – and I asked

– What promise is this?

– I’ve made a promise 48 years ago when I proposed. – and I said:

– What was that promise?

– I told her that I’m gonna take her to Europe, and go and visit these gravesites of these amazing people that lived and influenced my life. And I promised her that I’m gonna do that, and it’s been 48 years. – and I said:

– Suppose you do go, where would you start? Where would you go? – and he said:

– Obviously, Shakespeare.

– Who else?

– Mozart!

– Who else? – he had a list of people, and I was like, this is amazing. And I got excited, and he got excited, and we were talking for about six minutes. And then he was like “I’ll go there, and there and there…” and then the next thing I know, he went upstairs and he took out his iPad, and I thought he was looking up information on cancer. So I went around his back and I saw what he was doing, and he was looking for flights. Flights to Europe.

So after the conversation somehow we talked about it even more, almost every day. And he’s taking chemotherapy, he’s taking all these different radiation therapies. And then, September 16th this year I took them to a nice shop to get them a matching backpack, because it was “back to shool SALE”, and they got me how many backpacks in my schoolyears? So I got them a matching backpack, so my dad has a grey backpack, my mom has a red one, and then we got on a plane to London, and then from there we went to Paris, where we would have died not because of cancer but of traffic, but we survived.

And then people keep on asking me, they text me from Toronto, “what did you see, what did you see?” And me: “dead people.” But you know, he went to these graves, and we went to this beautiful place in Florence, and he found Chopin, or is it Florence? It wasn’t Florence, it was in Paris. I don’t know how many cities… He went to Chopin, he went to Rossini, he went to all these tombs and then he said something. And I couldn’t hear him, I said:

– Dad, what are you saying? – and he looked at me, and he said:

– None of your business.

So we were collecting stories and photos of each of the graves that we were visiting. And I said:

– Dad, we’re going to Budapest. Who do we have here? Who’s dead in Budapest? – and he said:

– Well… – and he started to tell me a story of a Ferenc Liszt who actually apparently didn’t die here, is that true? But he’s from here? So he’s got all this map, and everything planned out. And he has a little bit of the side effects, a little bit of hard time walking, and I don’t know where he is right now, but he’s somewhere out there. At somebody’s grave.

So I’m telling you that story, because this is not just a technique. It was, until I had a conversation with my dad. This is my life that I live every day. This morning I got up, and I had this conversation with my dad: he is in the process of dying. But the conversation was about how to finish really well. And it’s a daily-daily conversation for me, it’s not a technique. So when we introduce SF as a technique… Quadrant? Yeah, sure… Look at whatever you do, but really… I really think that this is something that has way more to it than you can ever imagine. That’s how I experience it, and that’s why I’m still learning from it, learning from my clients, learning how to talk to my clients. I wish I videotaped the session with my dad. Wouldn’t that be cool?

Photo credit: Solutionsurfers

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