We all will face death
An important task of the End of Life Guide is to help people accept death when it can no longer be avoided, and to perhaps ease the suffering of those who are still living. Few other experiences have the potential to be so tender, so direct and so intense as the time devoted to caring for a dying person. Accompanying the dying makes demands that are exhausting and can evoke emotions that are overwhelming. It is subject to no timescale and no predictable boundaries, proceeding only from one uncertain moment to the next. All very similar to our being born.
Relatives and loved ones commonly ask that “everything possible” be done for the dying person. Modern medical specialists can now provide a range of treatment options and other procedures designed to prolong our dying. But it takes love, patience and the support of an open heart to do “everything possible” for a person on the threshold of death’s transformation.
Fortunately, the horizon of possibilities now available both before and during terminal illness is expanding.The full spectrum of care extends far beyond medical treatment and affects the entire experience of the person who is facing death. Enlightened medical practice now includes palliative care, which gives great importance to pain relief. American culture is beginning to embrace End of Life Guides, and Death Doulas as an intricate experience of ones last days.The supportive team should involve active total care of patients whose disease no longer responds to curative treatment, and for whom the goal must be the best quality of life while preparing for a peaceful “good death”.
Pain and suffering are not automatic, nor are they consistent. They are subject to considerable variation, depending on many factors such as the physical and emotional. One central element is the precise nature of the suffering and the response of the body and nervous system to it. However, a persons responses can be affected by many inner thoughts and questions. Will I or can I be cared for at home, in hospital, a hospice, a nursing home? What freedom do I have to choose? Am I receiving all the information about my condition? Am I satisfied with the level of communication with my care giving team? Am I a burden? The list goes on and on.
If you need care or find yourself having to care for a dying person, you will find yourself needing to make a number of decisions. The best options and places of care, to treatments goals and proper planning through advance directives. We can be haunted by thoughts of lying helplessly in pain, unable to move or do for ourselves the most private tasks. Totally dependent on “the system” and a burden to our partner, children and loved ones, can make many turn stoically inwards, taking the burden upon themselves. This should not be the case. Our distress may be even greater of having this fate befall the people we love most and becoming helpless bystanders as they suffer.
Why wait until we have little time left to live? We could begin asking ourselves some very important questions. Have I planned ahead and prepared all advance directives? Have I expressed clearly my end of life treatment decisions and goals? Have I done some much-needed relational work? In what ways can I express myself to those I love while there is still time? Perhaps more importantly, am I living in such a way now? Am I already treating the time I spend with others as precious moments?