It’s a strange fact that the thing we are all certain to experience as human beings is often the one that we find hardest to talk about. Yet, far from being sad or painful, talking about dying can reduce our fear, it can bring us together and can even be a liberating experience.
Talking about dying makes us think about our lives, our loves, our relationships and what is truly important to us. Perhaps we shouldn’t leave discussions about how we die until we are ill?
As a Hospice nurse I was privileged to be part of many conversations about dying. Some people balanced planning their death and funeral with their next holiday or special time with family or friends. One woman I knew was so determined not the miss the party after her funeral that she held it the month before she died!
Having worked in hospice care for more than 30 years, I know that dying is sad and emotional but being informed and prepared can help. When pregnant with my first child, the practical preparations of classes, understanding the pain control available and where I could give birth all helped - as did making sure the freezer was full of ready meals. Preparing for death is similar. Understanding what might happen and what you and your family or friends would want are equally important. Professionals can suggest and advise but how and where you want to be cared for is up to you.
Being prepared and sharing your thoughts with family and friends can be a gift to them as they will know what you want. If you are suddenly taken ill, doctors will ask your family what they think you would want to happen. If you have had those conversations and perhaps even written them down it will help make sure you have the type of treatment you would want and perhaps in very extreme circumstances prevent life saving treatment when you actually would have preferred to be allowed to die peacefully.
Facing death is hard, for the dying and those who will be left behind, stories in the media are often about those whose dying is painful and undignified. We do not hear about the many thousands of people that have been supported by family, friends and professionals to have a peaceful and dignified death. Hospices have played their part in improving this, but I believe there is much more work to be done if we are to make everyone’s experience of dying better.
St Nicholas Hospice Care has helped people have many of these conversations, advice can be found on our website, www.stnicholashospicecare.org.uk, and and on www.dyingmatters.org