I’ve frequently said that “other people die, not me or anyone close to me.” It’s a statement that seems to fit most people’s attitude toward death. “I’m not going to talk about death. I’m not going to make any plans, like an Advanced Directive. I’ll address those issues later” is basically how we approach end of life issues. And then one day we are faced with our potential ending. Shock, oh shock! Not me! I thought it was only other people.
We can talk about our not being able to be fixed but deep inside we really don’t believe it. We think, “the diagnosis was a mistake,” or “there will be a cure,” or “there will be a miracle.” It is just too much for the mind to see ourselves as being dead.
In the months before a gradual death we really don’t believe death will happen to us or to those we love. We can watch the decline, the progress, but we are generally in denial. “We” being the patient, but often the family and significant others as well.
In the days to weeks before gradual death occurs a person realizes, at last, that they are dying. They may not share that realization with anyone, but they know. If asked they may deny it but deep, deep down they know they are dying. This is why the “Don’t tell Mom” theory doesn’t work, she knows. Not telling her and not talking about this huge challenge results in loneliness and isolation, a lot of game playing.
The reality is we are all going to die someday. It is the only guarantee life offers. If we talk about what life is offering, even when it’s death, we will still be scared and of course very sad but we will have our final wishes known, through our Advanced Directive. We will be able to have our end of life wishes met, not someone else’s idea of how we should die. And even more importantly we will have the opportunity to “put our house in order,” to say goodbye.
Something More… about Putting Our House In Order
If you are caring for a special person who is declining from old age or disease in your home, I have a tool to support you. My new guide By Your Side, A Guide for Caring for the Dying at Home details signs of approaching death (what to look for, what to do); describes end of life care at home; pain management; care of dementia patients at end of life; and, very importantly, how to take care of yourself as you fulfill your role as caregiver.