Don't be afraid to talk about death
Updated: Feb 15
I have said this before… but people have a tendency not to ask me how my day was because they are afraid that I am going to tell them. In one of my previous blogs, titled “Ask Me How My Day Was” I encouraged you to ask us how our day was, because we really want to talk about it. By “Us”, I mean anyone in general, of course… but for the purpose of the blog, I meant anyone working in hospice, and around death. We have a lot to say and while most assume it is dark and morbid, I think the beauty we are gifted with when providing comfort and support at the end of life would pleasantly surprise you. I can only speak for myself but I am certain many would agree, what I see is love, culture, faith and the constant reminder of how truly precious life can be.
This got me thinking about the conversations I do get to have about death, which are usually done with people I work with, and how powerful they are. Yes, we are talking about the end life but if you listen really closely, what you will find is that what we are also talking about is the gift of life, the value we place on it and the appreciation we have acquired for its fragility. In my work I have been reminded to live my life fully, to appreciate all of its wonder and magic, and to be more wide-awake. Does that make sense to you, to be more wide-awake? For me it means not to sleep through my life, not to wait for something to happen, and to make sure I do or try all the wonderful things that are available to me.
There are a few groups out there that are also trying to get the conversation started, encouraging people to start talking about the end of life. Those are my people. We are not obsessed with death, or maybe we kind of are, but that isn’t the point. Our goal, is not to turn you into death talking zombies, our goal, is to encourage you to feel comfortable talking about death, more importantly your own. By this I mean what you envision, how you want to be treated, things you do want and things that you don’t when it is your time to die. These are important conversations and I know this because I have been with families when someone is about to die and they inflict their needs and wants onto this person, without any consideration of what they might actually want or need. And I have seen the very worst of arguments between family members and loved ones as they go back and forth deciding what is best for someone else who is unable to speak up.
But what if they had? What if one night at dinner, they told you that they did not want to die in a hospital hooked up to machines, and force-fed by tubes in order to stay alive. What if they told you they wanted to be home, in their own bed, surrounded by those who loved them with a doctor, a nurse or a doula at their bedside making sure they did not suffer? What if we took the time to sit down with the people we loved and asked them what their wishes are at the end of their life?
This conversation should happen way before a diagnosis, or moments before they take their last breath. It should be a healthy collaboration between family and friends sharing their wishes so that when that time comes, they know they will be honored.
My goal is to join forces and collaborate with my people out there to encourage you to start talking about death. I want to help you to be less afraid. We are all going to die, that is an absolute. And we cannot predict the how or when, unfortunately, but it is inevitable and starting now having that conversation, allows you to make sure your voice is heard.
I am a huge advocate for people having a choice. You get to choose whom you kiss, whom you pray to, whom you vote for, and yes, even how you die (for the most part). If you want to be under a redwood tree or next to the ocean, or wearing a pink tu-tu when your last breaths are taken, you need to make that information known. If done right, you get to live a life by your design, but you can also do that with your death. YOU have a choice and the only way that can be honored, is if you talk about it and share it with the people you love. This is about you baby! You get to call the shots!!
I have been witness to more last breaths than I can count, and while they are all unique there is one common thread that I am always very comforted to see, and that is when someone is surrounded by those they love and their wishes are honored, there is a certain sense of peace that is truly beautiful, despite how hard it is to say goodbye. As human beings we were designed to be different, to think differently, to love differently, to experience life differently. This was intentional, to allow us to appreciate everything from another perspective. Where life brings us so much diversity, so does death. No one lives the same way, so no one should be expected to die the same way. Ask the hard questions, have the conversation, and help to ensure that someone you love has their wishes honored.