Three months before my father died at the age of 82, he called me to his bed side and talked to me about his impending death. He informed me in detail — right from the rituals to be performed, his funeral, who all to inform and distribution of his assets.
More importantly, he did not want anyone to cry, and he did not want to die in a hospital on a ventilator. When his end came, I was prepared for it.
Death is an uncomfortable topic of discussion. We don’t like to talk about it. We tend to avoid it when it comes up. And we resort to euphemisms to speak about it.
Most will know they are at the end of their lives, and hopefully most will have had time to think, talk about, plan and achieve the ‘good death’ they want.
However, very few of us ever really spend much time thinking about the end of our lives, or of our loved ones. But we have to if, as we all want for ourselves and the ones closest to us, we want to have a good death.
It’s only when we can acknowledge death as a natural part of life that we are able and willing to prepare for the death we want and to make the best choice to get there.
Death is ‘one of the last taboos’. I often say death and dying is like sex was in the Victorian times – nobody wants to talk about it. It wasn’t always this way though; a hundred years ago, very few people died in hospitals. They died at home, surrounded by family, friends, neighbours and loved ones. It was very much a part of life, but now very few people experience that.
Our society and our health system have removed death and dying from everyday life. With that happening, the fear of the unknown is strong. Speaking openly about how one wants to die has helped many families.
It’s time to discuss what a good death looks like. Death is, after all, a part of life, and ideally, a good life should end with a good death.
Contrary to general perception, a ‘good death’ is not an oxymoron – and it is all about getting people to start thinking about what they want for a good death, and giving them the information they need to take control of the final stage of life when the time comes.
Firstly, one must start the conversation — the idea is to help people be comfortable with having those conversations. It’s about making it easier for people when they get to those critical situations in their lives, where decisions need to be made.
I know from anecdotal feedback that people find it so much easier when these discussions have already been had or when a family member says, “When it gets to the point where I’m not going to have quality of life anymore, then I want this or that to happen. I don’t want to go to the ICU if there’s no prospect of me having any quality of life after.”
Secondly, it’s about documenting their wishes. There are a number of documents around that are important to get in order: power of attorney, a will, financial documents etc. You want to know the person’s wishes for their own care, as well as how they want their assets distributed after their death.
And lastly, when the time comes, a good death is making the person comfortable. It’s not only physical comfort, it’s psychological and spiritual comfort. But you can only get to that stage if you’ve thought about your death, you’ve planned for it, and you know, to an extent, what to expect when the time comes.
In the end, we all want a good life and we all want a good death – one surrounded by our loved ones, where we are well cared for, and hopefully at peace. And we want that for our loved ones too. There are many stories of good deaths, and it is indeed possible to be one of them.