Death and Dying; The difficult conversation
When you work in hospice, talking about death is something you become very used to, and are usually not uncomfortable with. Sometimes I find myself starting the conversation just to see the reaction I receive, which probably isn’t very sensitive, but I am feeling a little tired of skirting around death and allowing people I know and love to avoid it.
The one truth we can be absolutely certain of is that we are all going to die. This is inevitable, and while we cannot predict the date and time, we will all experience it, and not talking about it won’t prevent it from happening. In that same regard, talking about it won’t make it happen sooner or faster. I have said this before… people don’t ask me how my day is, because they are afraid, that I will tell them… which usually means, sharing about an experience I had with a patient… who is dying. I talk about death all the time, I am not afraid of it, in fact I have prepared a document outlining my wishes and I am ready for it when it happens. I do not want it to happen any time soon, I am not ready yet for that, but I do not want my family to have to make decisions on my behalf. And until then... I live!
I can’t help but think if we all talked about it more, and if we shared how we feel about death and dying, there would be less fear, less uncertainty and definitely less people (usually family) scurrying to figure out what to do when someone dies.
I cannot tell you how many people I have sat with shortly after someone they love has died and they have no idea what to do for a funeral home, whether they wanted to be buried or cremated and how to plan their celebration of life… or if they would even want one.
Planning ahead and sharing your wishes with those you love makes things easier for them. It is not necessarily a burden, but when you leave things unsaid, someone else has to handle those details, responsibilities and choices for you. After you take your last breath, a funeral home needs to be called so it can be arranged for you to be picked up. The person you love, who just witnessed you take your last breath… needs to work through their loss, not search the phone book for funeral homes.
This conversation is not easy, and most people do not want to hear that you have planned your end of life. I get that. In fact, I recently moved into a new place, and I shared with a family member where my important documents are, for instance, my letter entitled “what to do when I die”. She could not close that door to the cupboard fast enough. She didn’t want to know. I feel proud that I am prepared, but from her perspective, all she heard was that I might die. I love that she didn’t want to talk about it… but we all need to talk about.
There are so many really great ways to get the conversation started. I have some friends, Lori and Lisa from The Death Deck, and they created a card game, which allows a family, or group of friends to pick a card that has a variety of questions about death and dying. It offers multiple choice answers, which encourage great conversation, even some laughter and fun, and an opportunity to be even closer to the people you love by sharing the intimate details of how you want to be cared for before and after you die. This is a wonderful way to start the conversation and talk about those difficult sensitive details.
Working in hospice reminds me every single day how unpredictable life can be, and how we have absolutely no idea where, when or how it will happen. Sometimes we are given a diagnosis, which usually comes with a timeframe, but death doesn’t have a timeclock, it doesn’t speed up or slow down because we ask it to. So, however it comes our way, it is usually out of our control. The very best thing we can do, is prepare for it when it does happen.
I also believe that talking about death, and the fragility of it all, reminds us to live. Our time here is so unpredictable, we are all waiting in that same line for our number to be called. What if… we set up our plans ahead of time, outlined our wishes to those we love, and take that off our plate, perhaps allowing that “plate” to save our spot in line… so that we can go and play some more until it actually is our turn…
For me, it’s all about the celebration. I want a party, I want laughter, good wine, the smell of the ocean and really great music for everyone to dance to while they scatter my ashes. If I didn’t set up my plan, if I didn’t have my envelope ready… what would my party be like? What if they chose country music, hot dogs and a venue somewhere hot and dusty? We can’t have that. This is my life; therefore, it is my death and I want it done my way.
Have the conversation. Be open about your feelings relative to death, to dying and to how you want to be cared for and treated before and after you die. Get that off your plate so that you can step out of line for a bit longer and have some fun. This is all we get… one life… one death… have it be on your terms.
You can find the Death Deck at: https://thedeathdeck.com/
Here are a few really great FB pages and podcasts I enjoy:
The Bucket (David Abend) is awesome, I encourage you to check out this page and podcast: https://www.facebook.com/thebucketonline/
The Live Well/Die Well Tour - Death by Design (Kimberly C. Paul) podcast is fabulous: https://www.facebook.com/deathbydesignpodcast/
The Heart of Hospice (Helen and Jerry) always has something good to say and hear: https://www.facebook.com/theheartofhospice/
There are so many others, but this is a good start for you if you want to learn how to get that conversation started. I also invite you to my hospice FB page called, The Hospice Heart. It is a community of people who have come together to talk about life, death, dying, grief, loss, and love: https://www.facebook.com/thehospiceheart.net/