Parting Company: Understanding the Loss of a Loved One - The Caregiver's Journey

By Cynthia Pearson
WebMD Live Events Transcript

Event Date: 06/05/2000.

Developmental psychologist Peggy Stubbs and writer Cynthia Pearson will explore the sometimes difficult but important process of caregiving for loved ones when they pass away.

The opinions expressed by Dr. Stubbs and Ms. Pearson are theirs and theirs alone. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

Moderator: Welcome to WebMD Live's Mind Matters Auditorium. Today we are discussing Parting Company: Understanding the Loss of a Loved One, with co-authors Margaret L. Stubbs, PhD, and Cynthia Pearson.

Cynthia Pearson, founder and facilitator of The Dream Workshop in Pittsburgh, produces and writes the content for two web sites, Dream Journalist ( and Parting Company ( She co-authored The Practical Psychic, now in six languages, and has worked as a freelance writer and editor in fields of health care, family systems, personal development and spirituality. Ms. Pearson has taught death and dying and dream awareness courses, and speaks on caring for the dying to religious, community, academic and medical organizations.

Margaret L. "Peggy" Stubbs, PhD, researches the menstrual cycle, girls' and boys' pubertal development, and female development across the lifespan. She's taught in classrooms at many levels, from preschool to post-secondary, and served as the first director of the Department of Women's Studies at the University of Maine at Farmington. Dr. Stubbs contributed to the classic 1992 Association of American University Women's study, "How Schools Shortchange Girls" and has authored numerous publications, including Bodytalk, a series of pamphlets about menstruation for early adolescents and their parents, and Psychological Research in the Classroom: Issues for Educators and Researchers. Dr. Stubbs, who co-founded the Children's School in Acton, Massachusetts, has consulted with individual schools and state departments of education in the areas of gender equity in education, sexuality, teacher development and curriculum development. She currently serves as a board member and editor of the newsletter of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research.

Moderator: Dr. Stubbs, Ms. Pearson, welcome to WebMD Live. How did you come to write this book together?

Pearson: Well, Peggy and I have been friends since the fifth grade and it happened at few years ago that both of us were taking care of family members that were dying. While we were undergoing this really sad time, we were able to compare notes about the difficulties about death and dying, about what it was really like to give first-hand caregiving. We were overwhelmed about the sense of being unprepared and ignorant about the death process. We decided we would write the book we wish we could have read, something that would help us not feel so strange when we were comparing our own experiences to what we were reading about. We wanted a book that spoke to the experience of the caregiver, and give that person a chance to have their own perspective on the topic, come to the light in the literature, since we hadn't found that at all.

Moderator: In the book, you say that "death is coming home again." What do you mean by that?

Dr. Stubbs: One of the things we noticed that has been documented pretty well is that most deaths are happening in the hospital or nursing home, but this wasn't always the case. In the 19th century, death was more a feature of everyday life, with people tending to the dying at home. Dead people were laid out in the parlor, and it was more a part of the everyday life. Gradually, we saw people moving into the hospital for care, and they began to die there also. In the 20th century, we found more and more hospital deaths occurring. Several generations now in current times have had to undergo this experience without knowing first-hand what care for the dying entails. Even though death is inevitable, it too is being postponed and prolonged, so we have more and more people needing this kind of care, and not being able to be in the institution for as long as they may need to be there.

Pearson: The reigning view in society has become that we are going to be unable to provide institutional care for all the people that are going to need care at the end of life, specifically the care for the dying. In the early 1980's, Medicare began to permit a hospice benefit in this country. Hospice means care in the home, that is, an outpatient program where family members and friends take care of the dying with the support of professional services. So when this began to be a benefit that people could use for the first time in over fifty years, it became not normal yet but commonplace for people to die at home. What that does is leave a lot of family members who had not grown up taking care of the dying in our homes. We were really unprepared. Most people born since 1940 don't have a literacy of death and dying. Nowadays these kinds of demands are including managing technical equipment that is meant to help but becomes another element of burden. So those kinds of work burdens added to the fact that we are not taking care of strangers, we are taking care of the people who matter most to us. We need to be better prepared.

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