I’m going to talk about dying, which is something not many people do. In recent years I have had to face this issue on a very personal level. The first time I had ever had somebody I love very much die was in 2016, when my son was miscarried. This was the first time I remember having to cope with death and dying in this way. My granddad had died years before, but I was three at the time and although I mourn him it is in a totally different way to how I mourned for my son. Most recently I am having to cope with the dying process in a different way again, by witnessing my grandma going through her end of life stage.
Unlike most people I have a different dimension in my experience of death, I am a nurse so I have always had a very skewed view on death and dying, which I see as a massive advantage; I know what to expect, although I will say it still hits hard, very hard, I just have a different way of coping
with it, when compared to other people.
The main message the nurse in me wants to put across to people is, talk about death and dying openly, yes death is scary but what is scarier is having a lack of control over your own death, although that sentence seems a bit silly, what it means is take control of your death, to have a ‘good death’. I have come across some people that do want to deal with it on their own, people are after all very different and cannot be put in one box. This is still taking control, facing your death the way you want to.
Others want to talk about but are scared or worried, some feel it is taboo or that it is tempting fate; in reality the conversation sometimes, unfortunately never happens. This leads to wishes, hopes, and feelings and needs never being expressed. I have looked after so many people that are dying that lose consciousness too quickly to have the ‘dying’ conversation. So I challenge you to have that conversation, talk about what you want and what you don’t want with people you love because, from my experience, a ‘good death’ is one where everybody knows what the person wants for their death. I view dying and end of life as a different stage of life, just like being born, you get lots of choice and conversations around giving birth, but when it comes to dying, it is sometimes the opposite and it shouldn’t be.
Learn how to open a conversation about death.
Often people facing the end of their life will try to bring it up into conversation as ‘tester’ for example by asking something like ‘What do you think will happen when you die’. The most important thing you can do is listen to them, try and find out why they want to talk about the subject. Be kind.
Or if you want to broach the subject with a friend or relative, it can help to ask a question like, ‘Who would you like me to contact if you became seriously ill’ this gives them the opportunity to talk about it or also gives them the option to decide not to talk about it.
It’s even harder with someone like my grandma who has dementia, luckily my grandma did tell us what she wanted in the last years of her life, this has really helped us as we try so hard to stick to the things that she wanted, even though now she can’t remember them.
Another group to take into consideration is children, people often don’t want to tell their children that they are dying but research by Alison Germaine in 2011 shows a lot of them have wishes of things they want to do with you before you die. For example one little girl said ‘I would have liked to give her [mum] a big hug and a kiss and said goodbye. But now I can’t and it’s too late’ which to me, really brings home how lost they can feel when we leave it too late.
And its ok to cry, crying relieves and de-stresses a whole situation it lets your release how you feel, it is ok to be sad, it is ok to cry.
So please talk about dying, even if you are not make it a subject that we can all discuss openly if we need to, create an environment conductive for open and honest conversation.
Here are some interesting links some of which I use in my own practice:
Department of health
Death café (real places you can go to discuss death over a nice cup of coffee)