Fear of dying
Updated: Feb 15
Death does not come in a “one size fits all” category; it is not usually predictable, and very rarely planned and it will never become our friend. But the one thing we can all agree on is that most people are afraid of it. Dying is scary. It is that one topic of conversation most people avoid, but in my opinion, probably shouldn’t. Talking about death can actually help make it a little less scary.
As a Hospice nurse, I am front and center at death often. I have provided care and support for hundreds of patients and their families, doing my best to ensure that their death experience is as gentle and kind as possible. I have seen struggle, I have seen pain, and I have seen the look of anguish come over the face of a loved one who felt helpless and scared. And I have felt peace in my heart when I was able to bring comfort and relief, and did my part to ensure his or her landing was soft. But I do not do this alone. I find myself in awe working with the team of people I do, who make it their goal to relieve pain, discomfort, struggle and fear for every patient in our care.
But who does this for us? I have spent a lot of time thinking about the way someone else might die, but lately I have been questioning my own mortality, spending an unusually large amount of time contemplating my own death and what that might look like. I have imagined it being tragic, which has not been comforting understandably. I think what I am afraid of, is not dying in general, but having a death where I might struggle. And not having a team of hearts around me when it’s my time, and not having that kindness and comfort. I am scared…not of dying…but of struggling when I do.
I have also started thinking about what would happen when I die, would my kids know what to do? Would they be able to handle that responsibility? Where would I be buried or would I have my ashes scattered out at sea? What would they do with all of my things? I don’t have a lot of money, but I do have some; how can I be sure that my kids get it? So many things to think about and consider; but the one thing I know for sure is that I do not want my kids to have to cut through mountains of red tape to organize my life after I have left it. This leads me to my sudden realization that I need to take care of these things now and I encourage all of you to do the same. It isn’t a signature on a death certificate, or a nail in a coffin… so to speak… it is simply a way to not burden your family with all of that paper work and have to make choices on your behalf.
So I started the process and I wrote a letter, which I will make into a legal document, but at least it is a start. I was able to put down on paper what I want and what I don’t want. I don’t want to be hooked up to machines, I don’t want people changing my diapers and I do not want to be fed through a tube. And most of all, I don’t want my friends or family to be at my bedside for months just waiting. What I do want is for someone like me to make sure I do not suffer, and for someone like the wonderful people I work with to be there for me and for the people I love.
Just knowing that I wrote it down, that I put it “out there”, relieved me of the fear I realized I have had brewing inside of me. Dying doesn’t scare me; it is inevitable. We are all going to die. I think my epiphany about being more afraid of struggling at death rather than death itself, really gave me comfort.
I have seen so many family members wait until the last breath has been taken to decide on a funeral home. I have seen family members so afraid of the word “Hospice”, that they chose not to go that route and instead waited for weeks or months sitting vigil in a hospital room where machines and tubes prolonged a life that was already over.
I hope to live a whole lot longer, and when it is my time, I plan to throw a party to be able to say goodbye personally. I will have all my paperwork in place, in the event I don’t get a party or a grand farewell. But one thing I know for sure, I will have a choice of what I want, and what I don’t want and it will be done with dignity and kindness. I am not afraid of dying, and now I am less afraid of struggling when I do.
Get your paper work in order; hopefully you get to set it aside for a really long time. More importantly, you are not leaving it up to someone else to figure out for you.