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Jan. 12, 2022

Episode 8: How Hospice Inspires Life with Dr. Melvin Allen

Episode 8: How Hospice Inspires Life with Dr. Melvin Allen

Dr. Melvin Allen is from Chicago, IL, and attended the University of Illinois. He, and his wife Dr. Sherrie Allen, are both psychologists and live in Beverly Hills,  California. Their practice focuses on relationships and they've recently released a book, The Allen Method: Four Alchemical Steps for Creating and Sustaining Lasting and Loving Relationships, available on Amazon.

Dr. Melvin Allen has been a hospice volunteer for 15 years and has a message for all of us about life, and how working with the dying has inspired his living. Dying is something we all will do, even though we have no experience nor expertise in its happening. Volunteers like Dr. Allen help us to have conversations with our families long before death becomes imminent.

I encourage you to listen to this episode and share it with EVERYONE you care about. Learn more about Dr. Allen and the work he and his wife do together here:

https://melvinandsherrie.blogspot.com/

Support the show (https://www.buymeacoffee.com/melissaebken)

Transcript

Melissa:

Hey, Hey. Hey, welcome back to the pursuing uncomfortable podcast. In episode eight, I cannot wait. For you to meet Dr. Melvin Allen. I am giddy to have someone of his stature and his background and his gifts on this podcast. And I want to tell you just a little bit about him. He is from Chicago, Illinois, and went to the university of Illinois where he studied psychology. And he currently lives in Beverly Hills, California. He is married to Sherry Allen. Both of them are doctors. And they are depth psychologist. Dr. Melvin Allen is also a hospice volunteer. He has been a hospice volunteer for 15 years. And I would say he's seen it all. He would probably say he's only begun to experience life. But in this episode, you get to hear what it's like to be in that space. And he has some practical life. Experience and wisdom to share with all of us. So. Tighten those seatbelts and hang on for an incredible episode. That will change how you view dying. But most importantly how you view living Good morning, Dr. Allen. You may have been able to tell from that intro, how giddy I am to have you as a guest on this podcast, to have someone of your background and your stature, your knowledge, your compassion, it is truly a gift. So thank you so much for being here this

Melvin:

morning. Thank you. And invited me to opportunities or despair this summit, this town.

Melissa:

Now I have to admit there are about 15 different podcast episodes I would love to do with you, but today we're just going to stick to one. Okay. And your background. Background and as a depth psychologist and being married to the other Dr. Allen and the work, the two of you have done together, it is truly amazing. And if there is another human being out there, who's in relationship with another human being right now, you need to pull your car over and Google doctors, Allen, they will improve your life a thousand percent. But today, Dr. Allen, I would love to talk to you about your work as a hospice volunteer. That's not new to you, is it?

Melvin:

No. Um, my hospice work is probably the most important thing that I've done in my life. Continue to do it plan to do until somebody who has to see me in hospice

Melissa:

until you're the recipient of such care. So am I reading this correctly? That 15 years now you've been a hospice volunteer. That's

Melvin:

correct. 15 years. That's a long

Melissa:

time. Whenever I hear hospice, I have a particular reaction. Well, this podcast by its title pursuing uncomfortable. And you may realize is all about leaning into those really difficult and uncomfortable experiences and situations in life so that we can grow through them and thrive beyond them. But when I hear hospice to me that implies, I get a feeling of an end, but I don't think you do. What would you like us to know that. We don't always think about when we hear hospice.

Melvin:

Uh, I was thinking about that question, believe it or not. And I was thinking that one of the things that jumps out is that, uh, I'm usually in a very uncomfortable situation whenever I'm doing hospice work, because there is no. Uh, you know, like a pre-prescribed way of dying or pain and everyone is different and heavy person has a different relationship with God, with the family, with their friends and with themselves in such a way that it's a struggle and it's very uncomfortable for them. So, because it's uncomfortable for them, I'm walking into a very uncomfortable situation, but somebody who's uncomfortable that has no idea. But one of the things I mentioned is that no one taught us how to do it. And a lot of times people are wondering like, you know, uh, what's going to happen, you know, but where am I gonna go? Uh, is this gonna hurt? I don't want to be in pain. What about, what about they have all these questions and who did they go to to kind of say, well, let me show you and tell you how to dive. Cause I've done it many times. So it was very uncomfortable to have a conversation with them as a relative because you typically as a relative and I had a friend that make us transition. And it's like, his wife was always trying to rally for him coming back and being able to like, get back to where he was. He left who he was a long time ago and he is in the process of making his transition. And so to be comfortable and say, oh, it's no big deal. This is unrealistic. So she was very uncomfortable because she'd never had a husband died before and there'd be a witnessing to. Yeah. There's like, what do I do? And how do I do it? Am I doing it right? Should I be doing this? But she never gave up hope thinking that even to the last hour, some kind of way, miraculously, he was on come back and live a great life I could use too. So when you have to talk to people and I had to talk to, which is very uncomfortable and said, no, if he's in hospice, that means he's already, you know, he's at the point that he's getting ready to, he, his body is shutting down and he's getting ready to make us transition. Nobody wants to hear that when you and hold on, because God created can create miracles. They don't want to hear somebody going like you should start making preparations. So to have that conversation with her was not uncomfortable because I have been in this uncomfortable place before with other people to a point that I realized that it's uncomfortable for them. And as uncomfortable as it is, maybe there's some comfort in talking to somebody who's been doing this for 15 years. I had one client that they gave me out of nowhere and he was like 93 years old. And, uh, I went to him and I don't know people. So when I go to the first time, it's like, we gotta do a dance. Like I'm the volunteer. And they're looking at me like, well, what are you doing? And I'm going like, well with limits, I try to like, just be comfortable, you know, be with you, then you have conversations or just be a companion. And this guy says, well, I asked what about frontier? And then he says, I'm looking for somebody to help. And I'm assuming that this why you here to help me. I said, what is it that you want to help with? He says, well, I've got three or four things that are going on in my body. That's going to, they're going to kill me. It's just which one is going to kill me and how so, but my wife, uh, is, uh, is, uh, has demons. And she doesn't even know what time it is and she's very hostile. So I'm taking care of her. And I also have a daughter who's 65 that has a mentality, but 13 year old and I'm taking care of her. So my kids are telling me, oh, the two kids are telling me I need to cut them loose and I need to take care of myself. And I don't know what to do. My wife who I've been married to my life. He me, it depends on me because there's no one else for her. And they telling me I should put her in her home. My daughter who has a mentality of, but like the 13 year old has been living with me all her life. And it tells me I should just cast her out and focus on me and I can't do that. So I'm assuming, because you're the volunteer. You go help me figure that out, right? Oh my, that was uncovered. And he says, I, you know, and how long you say you've been doing this instead of doing it, he says, well, you probably have more experience. So how this works when people died, the families, what the families do, what they argue about. So with your background, I figured that you might be able to help me figure out what to do with my wife, because I'm dying. I'm running out of time and I don't know what. And now I'm getting, you know, all these mixed signals from different people. And I just can't leave my wife alone and just push her into a nursing home. And I can't deserve my daughter. And I need you to tell me what to do. That was within the first five minutes of meeting this 93 year old map that I've never met before. That was the introduction. So that's what it's like to not know. And to be okay with whatever comes up and to be uncomfortable, but yet be grounded enough to be able to go, you know, this is what I can do and which is, I can't do. This is what, you know, your husband is in the process of making this transition very uncomfortable conversation. So the reason I say the hospice. The most important thing that I've ever done is because that type of experience allows you to be an uncomfortable situations, a lot easier than it would be if you had to do that once in your life with a total stranger. So those conversations really have me grow. And from those experiences, I have a much bigger life because I'm talking about things that are uncomfortable, the unthinkable things that most people won't do. I find that once they're done, then it's. It's bad or is it, you know, it's not as huge of a mountain issue. Thought it might be just a speed bump, but it might look like a mountain. In the beginning, it was, gives me the silence and the peace and doing this is that I've never had a better feeling than completing the hospital visit. And having someone say, who are you, where you come from? Why are you doing this? And why, why. That's like, God tapping me on this show to say, keep doing what you're doing. And they say, are you coming back? And I have some coming back as long as you want me to come back. Okay, I'll see you next week. And they looked forward to me coming back. That's priceless. That's my reward for doing this. So that can be uncomfortable. But the reward is far greater than what I give or what I offer to share with people

Melissa:

on behalf of everyone listening to this, I want to give you a. Heartfelt, thank you for what you do and not just you, but everyone else out there, who's doing the same work who is stepping in that gap, that cavernous gap of life and death, and being a comfort to people in those moments. Thank you for what you do. Now, you touched on a few things I would like to ask you about further. You mentioned briefly here, and when we spoke before. Uh, an obvious statement that we don't know how to die. It's not something that we've done before. And that seems so obvious, but it's not something I've ever thought about. Other people are a lot smarter than I am. Maybe they think about this, but what, what, how do we die? What do we need to do in order to prepare for that?

Melvin:

Well is a good question. I think is I would say is that the hospice team I'm involved with, there's always a chaplain and the chaplain visits can talks to people. And it really has that really kind of see that this is a transition and there's really nothing to really fear. There's nothing to get upset about. The thing that most people are concerned about is being in pain. What hospice does is more or less guarantees that you will not be in pain and suffering. They want you to have a dignified transition, so wants to start to talk to a chaplain and say that like, you can't mess this up. You know, this is like just a natural process, like TV, you go through suffering and you'll get to the other side, but she didn't know what it was going to be like before you will. So you give, your mother gives birth and then you in a new world. So you make a transition and we go into a new world and something happens. Has anybody come back to be able to say, you know, people who have near death experiences and come back and say, oh, I had saw bright lights, but to actually talk to someone like say that a day of 30 or 40 years of relative to something like that, to come back and have a conversation like we are talking about what this is what's going to happen is maybe it's more of a, the body is shutting down. You know, we all have a shelf life. Yeah. We're shutting down and something's going to just shut down and stop functioning. And then you're just going to make a transition and you all be in pain. You know, thing I think I hear most is I don't want to suffer. I don't want to be a pain at once. People get that mindset that they're not going to be suffering and they're not going to be in pain. They seem to be more open to whatever the process. I'm open to it and I'm going to be okay with it. I've had many hospice patients. I go here, I'm not the typical hospice volunteer. So I ask questions that people would not even supposed to ask. And I said, well, what do you think about. How's it. How are you relating to this and you know, your mind, but how you, your thoughts that you like looking forward to seeing God, are you, are you scared to death? Are you, you know, you know, are you worried? You know, you try, you know, how, what does this clinic? I talked to a lot of them about that, because one I'm curious. I feel that if I can learn something from somebody who's already a headed down the road further than me, then what it's like, I think I told you I got this book. What the diet taught me about. And every time I leave a patient, it seems like they're teaching me how to live that sharing with me, moments of their life. That has me go. I don't want to be there when I'm getting ready to make my transition. I want to have great relationships. I want to live life to the fullest. I don't want to postpone things. There may be gratification. I want a life of peace, love, and joy, and I want it to be able to do that every day of my life, because one day it's going to be over and I cherish the days and don't take them for granted because of hospice. And every time I do a hospice patient is just like, wait a minute. That any day at any more. That could be you don't waste your time and take it for granted. So keep on walking until you can't walk any further.

Melissa:

That's the lesson. Thank you for that. You know, we, we know those things in our minds, but sometimes I think we forget that. In our bodies and in our hearts and in our souls. And in that part of our mind that is in charge of making all the decisions, the little decisions that determine the big decisions and the outcome and the shape and the flavor of our lives. I don't think we can have that reminder often enough. So thank you for that reminder. And

Melvin:

I forget, oh please. Don't, you know, I always looking at the future, Mr. Possibility. And so that's where. It gives me, you know, keeps me grounded and just go like, and I've talked to people that, you know, a year ago, a guy, one of my patients, one year ago, he was in construction and he was good looking gas, big, strong, just, just a good looking guy, brand, you know, big cat black. And he had more women than he could chase. And. All of a sudden he found out he was sick a year later he's meeting with me and he says, this is, I can't believe all this happened. And it happened so quick. And so I said, well, what do you have to ask about? And he looked at me and most of them, I think the comma, they asked her, they'd go like, what am I going to do? This is just what it is. It's this is the reality. And, um, and I know I'm dying and there's nothing I can do. So what I do is I take it one day at a time. And I don't take it for granted. If I could wake up and breathe. It's a good day.

Melissa:

That'll preach. Am I quote, ELL, Matt? Yeah. Dr. Allen, what would you say to the family who has a grandparent, a parent and uncle and aunt, a brother or sister, or a child who has an advancing illness. They want to have hope in that miracle, but they also know that there's a real possibility that the miracle is going to come on the other side of eternity. What would you say to that family in that situation?

Melvin:

Yeah. Interesting question. You know, it seems to me that I'm not me. I've mentioned this before. One of the things that is unique about my experiences. Most families, well, the person that's getting ready to make that transition. They have a frame of reference of how the processing is that the people who are not going through that experience have a different frame of reference. And I think I mentioned that I asked people, I give people the space to be able to say whatever they want to say. And to really just be any way they want to be. I mean, they brushed her hair, the Gregg brushed it to grade if they are uncomfortable. Great. But just be with them and listen to what they have to say. You, a lot of times I say, I can't tell my family or talk to my family to say way I talked to you because they have some kind of pre preconceived idea that I'm supposed to be eating or, you know, it's like, he wants to, what do you want? I said, I don't want to drink, have a. Shadow scotch. You can't have that stuff till you die, but they can't family can't hear that. They're still hoping. So to be able to allow a person who's making that transition, to be able to say whatever it is to say, and to be with them, wherever they are is really a gift because most family members don't do that. So when they see me, they kind of tell me, kinda like, talk about the. You know, my mother says my sisters that this one's, this, this one's that. And I'm going, wow, what a gift to be able to have someone say, they're able to say something to me and the moment they get ready to make the transition, if they don't feel that they can stay with their family, what would it be like? It's a family. It could be like the hospice volunteer and they'd be able to have their loved one so comfortable that they can say anything they want to say and be any way they want to be. I've had a patient saying that. They said, oh, this fuss, this is how I just really want some peace. If they really wanted to do something from it, he he'd been distracted for, he hadn't seen his family in 35, 40 years. And all of a sudden they found out he was sick and they missed him for those 35 years. And everybody, every relative rushed, Stan, he had no idea. They even knew he existed and he was overwhelmed, but they all wanted to do something. He didn't want them to do anything. He just wanted them to be there to kind of like, just be quiet. Oh, is he. Look at them, maybe talk about memories and just kinda like enjoy the moments. It wasn't about the doing, or you gotta do this at prep or, you know, you gotta turn over, you gotta get killing that. They just wanted someone to just kinda like be their loving and just be present and allow them the dignity of just being who they authentically are. And most of the times their families, they've got some preconceived idea of this is what they should be doing, and this is what we should be doing. And there's a lot of doing versus a lot of being and the being is what I think they want more than anything else. Just be here, love being kind of like share this sacred moment. What's me not doing, you know, and most of us want to do things. How can I help you? What do you want to drink? What can I do? Let me fix this. Let me fix that. They're not really interested in that. And it's hard for us to do that. So about bottom lot is how can you learn how to be with. People and we've got training. It was just, it's not trying to fix anything. It's not trying to, you know, uh, make something right. Or it's not like trying to, uh, lead them and say, this is what you should be doing. Or, you know, why don't we do this? It's just really just being there when those precious moments and just being there. And that might sound kind of like being, just really present to what they're going through and being able to ask them what they're thinking. But the. What would you be like for me to do? Not only do something, what would you like for me to do?

Melissa:

Yeah. Sorry. I interrupted you there. I do have a burning question. What do you say to the family member who has emotions on the brink? And who's afraid to be there with their loved. Because they want to be strong for that person.

Melvin:

I'm fine. I don't have a, like a, Ooh, this is what your answers would be. But I would imagine that authenticity is kind of like sacred. It has integrity. So this it's very difficult to hide your emotions. You know, you can have them at cheddar, but you know, but they're real that. And grieving is part of what you got to do during the process, but also after the process, grieving can be five minutes and five years or a lifetime, everybody grieves differently, but to try to not be authentic and share, what's real for you, I think does more harm to you because you're not able to really be expressive and say things you want to say. And instead you. Push them down and not be. And then how do you release them? Go into therapy and start talking about great. But in the moment, being able to say, you know, I'm scared, I'm terrified. I don't know what to do. Thinking about how, I don't know what Tom, I don't know what I'm going to do without you, you know, and dah, dah, dah, and it's overwhelming. You know, it's like, if that's the truth, that's the truth. And baby, the person dying might come back and say, you'd be great. And listen, after I leave here, live your life. If there's nothing else I can tell you is go to the doctor, you know, make sure you do this. Where's the wisdom that they asked. I asked spacious. I said, if you had words of wisdom to offer people, you know, somebody 20, 30, a much younger than you, you know, what would you tell? What would be your message to the world? I went to something. Knowing that you had to end the life and you can come and like, see it differently than somebody who can't even see the end. They can't even see if this is still in the doing mode. And they all come up with different assets, but they all want to be able to kind of like give you that or say that, or reflect, or be able to say like, maybe this is my moment, you know, maybe this, you know, whatever it is, why wouldn't a family want to know those things. But most of us are like, walk on eggshells thinking. I don't want to ask that, but I'm saying it might be uncomfortable, but what a gift, because when you get on the other side, it'll be something you'll remember for a lifetime. Okay. People video the last conversation, or what do you want to say or ask, you know, you know, knowing that you do it this way. And none of that. That takes something for the person to do the video, but also to the person making the video. But I would probably suggest to you, it's easier for the person who was being filmed than it is for the people trying to get it together, because that's just going to be who they are. They know they can't be anybody else. They're getting ready to check out of here. So they have something to say, if I could say anything to anybody by blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Wouldn't have.

Melissa:

You know, implicit throughout this entire conversation. What the message that keeps coming back to me is that if we wait until we're in that moment to prepare ourselves, then we've really limited our options emotionally and spiritually, mentally, and all the ways. That in each day, embracing, not just embracing life, but doing the hard work of relationships, of leaning into those difficult spaces that really broadens our options when we get to that point.

Melvin:

Yeah. Who taught us, you know, how do we, how do we learn these things? How do we experience this space? I think we do it. Um, the row on the job training, there was no roadmap. I had a big with your husband is dying. You know, I think somebody else who's lost a husband probably would have a pretty good idea. So suggestions on how to do it, but everybody's different and it's not like your husband, you know, it's someone else's husband, but your husband changes and alters your life forever. So one of the things that tilt my wife, who 15 years younger than me, um, Um, just a chapter in your book, nobody comes into your life and stays the entire journey. Everybody comes. Everybody goes, how much chapter in your book? 21 years of being married so far, I'm a chapter in a book. So I said, you know, you probably gonna to live. She's like 50, not so let's say 60, this is a good chance with technology and everything. You're probably gonna have to get an ID. So if you start looking at it 60 to 90 and see 30, yeah. Melvin was a chapter in your book and you have another 30 years to do life. So, you know, don't look at me as like, oh, my wife is coming to an end. Now it's just a part of life. And it's a chapter. You flip the page and go to the next chapter and who knows what? That's kind of big, but it'll add to your debt. You're going to be working on the next chapter and whatever that might be.

Melissa:

Dr. Allen. For your time. Thank you for these words. Thank you for your encouragement, your knowledge, your wisdom. Thank you for stepping in those spaces in those gaps. And thank you for spending time with us today.

Melvin:

Oh, listen. This is my pleasure. It's like the same. Like I came to the planet to be able to. Some of the things that I've done with other people. So they maybe, you know, it might make a difference with them if it does, if I can make a difference of one person that I feel like I have a life worth living. So, you know, I'll just keep doing what I do until I can't do it anymore. So thank you for giving me the opportunity to share a little bit about hospice, because there's something really sacred people talk about relationships when they talk to me about life or coaching, but very few people talk to me about how. But, uh, thank you for giving me an opportunity to share about my world.