Eventually death will come for each of us, its inevitability is well understood! Death and dying are often very difficult subjects for people to talk about, there is a deep sense of feeling uncomfortable talking about it and so these subjects become taboo and avoided. This is true, even with some healthcare professionals, they don’t like talking about it either! Which can be fine a lot of the time, but then when the subject becomes relevant, either as a carer for someone dying or because the person themselves are dying, they are existing in a world that important things they want to talk about are off limits! Or possibly, just very difficult!
Mostly, none of us are seeking death, but sometimes it can come along when we are not expecting it. Or we can be touched by it, when someone we know dies for whatever reason. Death is the time that our relationship with that person changes forever. If we loved them, we will still love them, but they are not here for us to tell them or demonstrate to them that it is true. And they never will be again. But our love for them hasn’t changed, it will just adapt.
For people who are dying, they need help and support for what will happen to them. To understand in their particular case how their body will break down and eventually give up living. That it might be painful, or the changes might happen in unexpected ways, that they hadn’t initially thought about.
A few years ago, I met a palliative doctor and they told me that people who are dying want to know three things: How long have I got? What will happen? Will it hurt? People who are dying want this information and giving it to them will give them some peace and prepare them for the journey that they have left. Depending on what is wrong with them, will depend on the answers to the questions.
I was with a person who was dying a few years ago, they knew that they were dying and were afraid, as no-one would talk to them and answer the three questions for them. I did my best for them and told them that I have been advised that until the body is shutting down, it is difficult to know how long they have got, but they did not have that long, a few weeks, maybe a few months. They were now permanently in bed and they were in the bed that they would die in. I explained that their pain we reasonably well managed and there was a team of doctors, nurses and care workers trying hard to ensure that both now and in the future, their pain would be managed, so they could have the least amount of pain, whilst staying alert. This was the balance, alertness, meant that they were able to eat, drink and interact with their visitors, too much pain relief meant that they were too sleepy for all of those things. They wanted to know what would happen and I explained that their body would slowly shut down and they would become naturally sleepier. Then on one of the times that they drift off to sleep, they wouldn’t wake up, as their body took the final step of stopping completely. Their next question was what would happen next and I said that whatever their cultural or religious belief of what happens to their soul, would be what happens, even though I am in no way qualified to give that opinion, this is still what I talked to them about. I also offered to arrange for their spiritual needs to be met, by arranging a preacher to come. And this gave them peace.
I also told them that their earthly remains would be sorted by those who are still here. That their estate would get sorted out by their executors and that their body would have the funeral that they had asked for.
When I went to leave, they clung tightly to my hand, we had been holding hands through this conversation and they asked me to stay, then drifted off, so I just sat. I sat with them and held their hand and neither of us talked. I sat there for about 30 mins, just being there with them. They died about a month later.
We all need kindness, we need this whether or not we are dying. People who are dying need information, they need to be able to talk about it and they need people to listen to them, no matter how challenging that conversation might be. And when we all get a little bit more used to talking about these important subjects, it will become a bit easier in due course, when it is our turn.