Wendt Center Grief and Trauma Psychotherapist, Mick Neustadt, was interviewed for this article from WTOP, originally published February 28, 2019.
The social worker
Mick Neustadt, a licensed social worker at the Wendt Center for Loss and Healing, in D.C., works with patients who have received a terminal diagnosis, as well as people whose relatives have gotten one.
He said both patients and relatives can fall prey to “emotional exhaustion,” and said it’s important to recognize that emotions ranging from anger to sadness to confusion are normal. “All of those are part of the process.”
Similar to Puchalski’s advice to doctors, Neustadt’s principal advice for patients involves prioritizing. “Give yourself the time you do have to really put your energy toward what’s most important to you, in terms of being with the people who are most important to you. And also to give yourself time for reflection.”
He said that kind of reflection almost always leads to the need for forgiveness — both to ask for it and to offer it: “taking stock of life lived, and coming to a point, if you can, of softening and forgiving yourself in terms of a letting-go, and forgiving others … looking back as you are coming to the end of life, and you realize there are all these things that you held on to.”
Everyone has had many relationships and influences that steered their actions in life, he said, and it’s important to the process of forgiveness to keep that in mind. “Just (slow) down to recognize and to forgive others who may have harmed you, recognizing that they, too, were the subject of many different conditions, and they did the best that they could in the situation they were presented with.”
He added that social media can help people stay in touch, especially after they may lose the ability to leave the house.
Learning you don’t have much time left is the ultimate loss of control, Neustadt said, and prioritizing, forgiving and opening up to you feelings gives a patient the sense that “I do have some part in how I want to live for the time that I have left.”
While Neustadt acknowledges that his work “can take its toll” on him, preparing someone to let go can have its own successes — “if they were able to have time to come closer to themselves, to look inward, have some time for reflection and introspection, and they were able to soften, even just a little bit, around going into death. …
“If the person really felt acknowledged by me, and they felt listened to, I think that’s what makes it a success.”