I recently finished a book by Lee Gutkind titled At The End of Life: True Stories of Death and Dying. It was one of the most difficult, informative, painful and necessary books I’ve read in a long time. It’s hard to talk about death because we don’t want to think about it. Understandably we want to avoid it for ourselves and those we love as long as possible. But what happens when this mindset becomes detrimental?
Very soon I turn 56 and as I often say, I have more time behind me than in front of me. I’ve never been one who had a desire to live 85, 95 or more years. I’ve lived many lifetimes in my 56 years and experienced a great deal. When my time comes I think I’ll be ready.
Death doesn’t scare me…I have a very strong belief in life after death although I have no idea what that life entails. I prefer to think of it as life after life. I’m not afraid to die. Curious, yes. Apprehensive for the unknown, certainly. But not afraid.
No, it’s not death that frightens me, it’s how I’m going to die that is concerning. I have a will as well as directives for end of life care but I’m discovering this isn’t necessarily going to stop suffering from occurring. Specifically suffering at the hands of others…over-zealous doctors, the enforcers of hospital protocol, and perhaps well-meaning people in my life.
My husband is well aware of my wishes as he has the same ones. We both agree – DNR, no extraordinary measures, no treatments to prolong a life that is terminal. Instead, palliative care, management of pain and to be in as comforting an environment as possible is what I hope for should my death not come quickly and I’m confined to small quarters and an even smaller bed. To be treated with dignity and have our wishes met is what we need as we release our grip on this life.
Studies have shown that most people, if given the choice, would prefer to die at home instead of in a hospital yet more than half of all deaths take place in a hospital or other type of health care facility. Thankfully hospice is becoming more widely available and accepted. They support both patients and their families as they maneuver the path to end of life; one as they die and the others as they move on without the one they love. Hospice strives to make death as comforting as they can, focusing on pain management with as little medical intervention as possible. They work to help manifest a meaningful and comforting end to one’s life.
I understand people wanting to fight to the very end but often times this taxes an overtaxed medical system and forces those who provide our care to reluctantly enter a battle they cannot win. On the opposite side, beware of doctors with big egos and/or the desire to utilize all forms of medical technology even when they KNOW a patient is dying. This isn’t new, it’s been going on for years.
All this causes great strife for those left behind. They will be the haunted witnesses to extraordinary measures everyone knew would not be life saving as well as the immense suffering these measures caused prior to their loved one‘s death.
Dying and death is hard to talk about because we’ve been taught to be afraid of it. I do not believe death is the worst thing that can happen to someone. I believe immense, unnecessary suffering is much worse. Why impose that suffering if we don’t have to? Doctors and other health care professionals need to speak openly and honestly with their patients about death and dying to help alleviate their fears before it’s too late.
We have to do our part too. Make time to talk to the people you love about what you do and do not want at the end of your life and then do the paperwork. Research end of life directives and you will find a plethora of information to help you get the conversation started and aid you in getting things in order. It amazes me how often people will have a will drawn up so that all their worldly possessions are taken care of but they fail to put in order their wishes for end of life care. Our life is our responsibility and so is our death. Having things in place for end of life care takes all the pressure off others to make our decisions for us and gives us peace of mind as well.
Also be sure to give those you love a chance to speak freely of their own fears and concerns. No one should be made to feel bad because of how they feel or what they may be afraid of when it comes to watching someone die. They are the ones who will be left to deal with the memories and emotions when we are gone.
Personally I think of death as a passing through so to speak. When I close my eyes for the last time in this world, I will open them for the first time in another. It will be an adventure and I believe with all my heart that this life will pale in comparison to the journey ahead.