What is a "good" death?
Updated: Feb 10
Someone recently asked me why we call it a “good death”. She is the daughter of a man who was nearing the end of his life and someone had told her she hoped he had a "good death" and she struggled with that because she could not quite comprehend how any death could be good. I get that. I have been asked this question before and I have always answered it with so much certainty that it never created any doubt or room for question in my head. Until now.
Hospice workers have a front row seat to death but most people have barely walked through the front door of the theatre. Because we are so familiar with death, we could very easily say things that won't resonate with someone else the way it does for us. Perhaps we need to be more mindful of how we say things to someone who might not be coming from our perspective. A good death makes sense to me; it represents a death where pain and discomfort are reduced, just in time for everyone to gather around the bedside to say goodbye. But to the ones saying goodbye, rarely would they consider this death as good. Perhaps using the word “peaceful” would be more appropriate or welcomed by those left behind.
I have seen the look on the faces of those at the bedside when someone is suffering from pain and discomfort and I have heard so many times, “please help him”. This breaks my heart. I stay until there is calm and sometimes that is within minutes simply by doing something as easy as raising the head of the bed, or repositioning … but sometimes it takes hours. To see the look of relief on those faces that were riddled with fear and sadness earlier is what I strive for. Death is hard enough, but to go through the process in distress seems unfair and inhumane to me. So when I am able to get them to that place of comfort, where family is at the bedside and the room is calm and the energy is simply that of love… I feel peace within.
When those last breaths are taken without struggle, I see that as "good". When I witness a family gathered around a bedside with so much love in their hearts, holding hands and supporting one another while they say goodbye to someone they love… I see that as "beautiful". When the room is calm, and the breathing softly slows, I see that as "peaceful".
From my perspective, I strive for a good death, a beautiful death … a peaceful death. Not everyone will see it that way, and we need to be mindful of that. It is not for us to put a label on their experience. I learn and grow every day and the one thing that always comes back to me is "this is not about you" so I am reminded by the question she asked me, that everyone has a different interpretation of death and the dying process. As much as we do the educating, I find that I am always the one doing the learning.
Photo Credit: Native Poppy (Florist) www.nativepoppy.com