New Ways to Think about Death & Dying

Death is a Universal Human Experience

Yet, talk of it is nearly removed from everyday life.

Death is difficult to think about, more less talk about.

We are afraid of it.

Discussing death reminds us of our own mortality.

It feels quite uncertain.

Many parts of dying are not beautiful.

Death is medicalized.

Older people are often placed in nursing homes and sick people in hospitals.

The subject is completely avoided.

Even doctors are trained to save lives not discuss death.

Talking about death and dying often causes anxiety and discomfort.

We don’t know what to say, or what to do.

Silently Wonder

Still, if we are facing an expected death, we silently question and wonder

  • Are prepared for leaving-spiritually, financially, and emotionally?
  • What is dying like?
  • How we will cope while dying?
  • Have we accomplished all we’d like before dying? 
  • Will those we leave behind be okay?
  • How loved ones will react to the way we’d like to die and be memorialized.
  • What kind of legacy are we leaving?
  • Will we be missed?

So many thoughts and questions left unaddressed.

Why stay so emotionally isolated?

Why not reframe death from being scary, desolate and bleak to being noble, brave and honest?

It was Benjamin Franklin, who in 1789, prophetically stated “…In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

Life Review

The reality of life is that death is our constant companion. It is part of living.

Understanding this brings death and dying back into its natural place in the cycle of life. It also may abruptly affect how you wish to continue living. That’s okay. We each have limited time and resources. We should use them wisely.

The first step is to do a bit of self-discovery and reflection.

In other words, do a life review. Start recording significant events or moments from your life.

Are there consistent themes?

Note your greatest accomplishments, and failures, and what you remember or learned from each. These notes can become part of your legacy.

Are there life lessons you’d like to pass on, especially to your children? Record these by writing them down or creating a video.

Do you need to seek forgiveness from anyone or forgive someone? Is now the time?

End of Life Plan

Being brave enough to do a life review and have difficult, but meaningful, conversations will allow you to leave your way and on your terms, while creating the experience you wish to have.

You are also providing peace of mind for loved ones who now fully know your wishes and plan.

NOTE: Be sure your plan is well documented. Share the plan aloud with loved ones and let someone know where you are safely keeping the written document. Be sure to periodically review and update it, if needed.

Ask Yourself: If you could design your own death, what would the experience be like and how would you feel?

  • How do you want to leave?
  • Describe your last months and days.
  • What kind of sensory experience do you desire? Do you want music playing? If so, what type? Do you prefer silence? Should someone read to you? If so, what and whom? Do you want to be touched? By whom and how?
  • Who do you want present, or not present, when you die?
  • Do you want to be anointed?
  • At the time of death, do you want your body immediately removed or do you want it to lay still for a certain time period?
  • Do you want to be cremated or buried?
  • How do you wish to be remembered?
  • Do you want a published obituary? Have you written it?
  • Do you want a funeral service or a celebration of life?

NOTE: You may find while answering these questions that the way you want to die is really about how you also want to live.

Gather, Listen & Share

Once you’ve finished your life review and drafted a plan for your ending, bravely gather your loved ones and share your thoughts, feelings and fears with them in a meaningful way.

Present your exit plan created by answering questions like those above.

Acknowledge the discomfort up front.

Understand that some loved ones may opt out of the gathering.

Talking about your dying and death is just too much for them right now.

That’s okay.

Make sure they can tell you in private about their fears and their inability to attend. Offer to meet with them separately when they are ready, if ever.

Ask those gathered

  • How will you remember me?
  • What scares you most about my dying?
  • Do you have concerns about my not being here?
  • What questions do you want to ask me that you haven’t asked before?
  • Is there a role you’d like to play in my dying and then at my funeral and/or celebration of life?
  • What can I do to relieve any anxiety or fear you may have about my dying?
  • Is there anything you’d like to do together in my last days here?

Hospice & End-of-Life Doulas

Those with terminal illness and their loved ones often become familiar with hospice. There’s an emerging field to offer additional support near the end of one’s life: End-of-Life Doulas.

Here’s a brief description of each with links for more information.

Hospice Care

According to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization NHPCO, modern hospice began around 1948 in London as a place where people could go to be comforted while dying from an illness.

The first modern hospice in the US was founded in 1974, and the Medicare Hospice Benefit was introduced in the 1980s.

Hospice care is

  • Approved by Medicare, thus free to anyone aged 65+
  • Designated care for anyone with a terminal illness
  • Ordered by two physicians who certify the patient is terminally ill
  • Focused on reducing pain and suffering without removing the cause of it
  • Prioritizes comfort and quality of end of life
  • More Information Home | NHPCO

End-of-Life Doula

End-of-Life Doula is a relatively new service. Many know doulas to be a woman who helps another woman through the birthing process.

An End-of-Life Doula brings someone to the end of life. She puts them at peace and comfort by providing personal companionship. She provides emotional, personal and practical support to the patient, family and caregivers.

The Doula will ensure a patient does not die alone. She will journey with them in their 11th hour and be a witness to the dying and death, especially if a hospice program does not have an 11th Hour volunteer program or the patient has no one beside them.

  • Non-medical support role—a companion
  • Does not replace hospice care; adjunct to hospice team
  • Reinforces a hospice plan of care
  • Loving companionship with end-of-life knowledge
  • Generally, do not do personal care
  • Do not do medication administration
  • Most are not chaplains, social workers, or therapists. They are companions-people who will journey with you.
  • More information NATIONAL END-OF-LIFE DOULA ALLIANCE (NEDA) – Home (nedalliance.org)

Be at peace when you die.

Be unafraid.

Talk about death and dying.

Allow loved ones to accompany you to the door of death.

Let go together with comfort knowing you left your way

with your wishes being met.

Resources

You don’t need to start from scratch to begin the process of talking about death and dying. There are plenty of tools available to encourage and guide these discussion and actions.

  • Churches and funeral homes offer free booklets to complete indicating your wishes and consolidating your vital information. This pre-planning allows you to make informed decisions while you still can and reduces stress for your loved ones upon your death. These booklets include everything from desired scripture readings to cemetery arrangements to loved one’s contact information to insurance and financial information, etc. Examples include: Home – Family Love Letter   Planning Guide – Catholic Cemeteries Omaha
  • A simple online search yields multiple planning tools. Here’s just one example. All Ready to Go.pdf (endoflifeguidetraining.com)
  • Your financial planner, banker and attorney are also great sources for such tools.
  • Visit Death Over Dinner. It’s an outstanding website with many tools to use in having your end of life wishes met.
  • Read about Home – Death With Dignity
  • End of Life Initiatives  End of life | RoundGlass

©January 2021. Linda Leier Thomason All Rights Reserved.

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Linda Leier Thomason writes freelance business and travel stories along with feature articles. Her work experience includes a Fortune 500 corporation, federal government, entrepreneurship and small business. Read more about her background and qualifications by clicking on the “Meet Linda” tab above.

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