Death and dying and why it’s important
We all die!
And whilst a lot of the focus of our lives should be living well before that happens, it is nevertheless important to spend some time considering how we want to die and talking about it, so that those around us know our wishes.
Although sometimes death can be unexpected, such as that following a car accident or unexpected illness, there are also times that death itself is expected, such as at the end of illness. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross wrote about the 5 stages of grief when faced with a terminal diagnosis – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. David Kessler has now posed a sixth stage of “finding meaning”. Not everyone goes through these stages and if they do, they don’t always go through them in order.
Talking about death and planning it is important, because it gives the person with the terminal diagnosis a chance to have their choice and preferences respected about their dying. What is important to one person might not be important to someone else, so being able to express your preferences and importantly priorities is very empowering.
When people get a terminal diagnosis what they usually want to know is:
- How long do I have?
- What will happen to me?
- Will it hurt?
When the timeframe is very short, it can focus the person’s attention to what is truly important to them and is a chance to say those last words which might be “thank you”, “I love you” or “I’m sorry”. I have certainly come across circumstances when people are told unexpectedly that they have a few hours to say goodbye.
If the timeframe is a few weeks or months, this gives a far greater opportunity for people to plan more about the circumstances of their death, such as where they would like to be and who they would like to be there with them. These plans can even include what they want to wear and if their pets are allowed on the bed.
If the time frame is a few years, then this is time for memory creating before they go, even with a shorter time frame, there should still be opportunity for memory building. The person can tick off their “bucket list” items and do the things that they had thought about doing “one day”, because one day becomes today. It is a wonderful experience for all to be involved in these memory building occasions, which can at times happen in surprising ways and an event that was due to be nothing particularly special can turn out to be very different. Some bucket list items need to be adapted because of physical or medical issues that make something to difficult or too risky, but that does not mean that an adapted version of the bucket list item should not be undertaken.
A terminal diagnosis focuses the attention of the person dying to what is really important to them and gives them a chance to focus on that. Compassion is the key message, compassion for the person and their wishes and compassion for those who will be left behind.
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