No guidebook for Dying

There are tons of guidebooks and manuals for what to do and what to expect for major milestones of human life.  You have wedding planners & tip books for when you want to get married, What to Expect books for when you are pregnant, more parenting guides for once those kiddos have made their arrival, guides for college entry, and even dating advice books…but, an area lacking in guidance is for death.
Sometimes in certain societies/cultures, death is so rarely discussed that people are overwhelmed when someone they know is dying.  …Yet, it is the very thing that we SHOULD discuss.  I mean, everyone is going to die, so shouldn’t we be more familiar with how to handle it?

Yes, there IS the occasional book at the bookstore that discusses how to plan your own funeral, and many that deal with grief and how to write your will, and such, but not a plethora of guidebooks on what to expect when you’re dying.
The dying milestone is so varied that how one prepares for it must also be as varied.  One must possess a Swiss Army Knife full of skills because depending on the circumstances of the person dying you would react and feel many different ways.  If someone dies young that is a different experience than from when someone dies after a long life in his or her’s Golden Years.  Accidents verses Natural death, In their sleep verses in discomfort/pain… and the list goes on and on…  There isn’t a set way that dying takes place, so there really isn’t a set way to prepare.  It’s a in-the-moment life event.  It is as complicated as it is emotional.Rosie_O_Beirne-dying-at-home-hands-on-pink-blanket-google-624x416

Why write about dying, such an emotional and avoided subject? 

Because we NEED to talk about it.  Many feel like they are going it alone when experiencing the death of a loved one.  Even when surrounded by others it can feel lonely because our feelings are so intimate and personal, it’s difficult to believe others can relate Exactly to how we feel.   Maybe if more of us talked about our feelings or openly discussed the difficulties of dealing with this milestone it would become easier to face…

My own Grandma has been in the dying process these last few months. She probably has a few weeks left here, with us, on earth.  She is the last of my grandparents.  One grandpa passed away before my birth, a second when I was a young child, and my other grandma died when I was thirteen.  Truth? It will be awkward and sad to have that whole generation gone.  I’m not sure how else I’ll feel, but definitely it will feel like something is missing.

How we feel about a loved one’s death significantly depends on our personal beliefs and convictions about life, death, afterlife, and how those apply to the person meeting this fate.  If we are at peace and comfortable with how this individual fits into those beliefs, then we usually find it easier to grieve and let go, but if any of these areas is outside of what we think it should be, then the individual’s passing is much more uncomfortable and difficult to process.

Death, just like birth, isn’t very dignified.  It strips you of everything, especially if your dying process is a long one.  Your body loses strength, you can lose ability to control processes that were once done without even a thought.  Now they become a struggle.  For many, cognitive processes get all jumbled up as well, creating the need for a caretaker for the simplest of tasks.

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At least at birth most of us are cleaned up before being presented to the world.  Dying isn’t as considerate of a milestone.  Others will see you at your weakest, most dependent stage since infancy.
If death takes a while to come and an individual is sick, the family and friends often live life in a cautious, befuddled mode with wondering and waiting…Many dying individuals command others to “keep on living” despite the person’s condition, but it’s not an easy task for others to do: Should you travel, go on vacation?  Can the person still see and read the cards you send?  Would they recognize you if you called or would the dementia be in control that day? What if they pass away on a holiday or before a child’s birthday…how far do you take the command to do things as you normally do?  So many questions that we stumble over with uncertainty, hoping we are doing it right.   Wouldn’t it be nice if dying was clean-cut with easy to understand steps, so all we had to do was deal with the emotions…

Even that part isn’t easy though, as Paula Spencer Scott states in her post: How to say good-bye when someone you love is dying, (link here)

“Saying good-bye to a dying relative or friend—what to talk about, when, and how—doesn’t come naturally to most adults. The irony: All such conversations ask of us, ultimately, is what people appreciate hearing at any time of life: words of candor, reassurance, and love.”

By being scared to talk about dying we enter into a “conspiracy of silence” between the generations.  Elderly parents don’t want to worry their children, and the children are worried to bring up such an intimate subject; they worry that their parents will think that they are waiting for them to die.

“We often comfort ourselves with the notion that doctors are “in charge” and will make the right decisions. And we all think it’s too soon to speak of death. Until it’s too late.”

When is the right time?  Well, it’s never too soon.  “The first place for the talk is not the doctor’s office and certainly not the emergency room. It’s at the kitchen table long before a medical crisis. If you’re the parent, begin by having the conversation in your head, because talking it out with yourself will make it easier to approach your children.”

Peter Saul, Senior Intensive Care specialist in the adult and pediatric ICU at John Hunter Hospital, and Director of Intensive Care at Newcastle Private Hospital in Australia, has a wonderful TED talk that discusses the subject of dying and how to open a dialogue about it:  http://on.ted.com/Saul  

These conversations produce rich moments of emotional connection. They bring us closer together. What’s more, people who have had them tend to choose less aggressive care and leave their survivors less regretful and depressed. What a gift!

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**************** Genesis 3:19 “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”

Ecclesiastes 3:20 “All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.”

 


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