If you or someone you love is dying, here are five things to know. As a certified death doula, I have had a lot of experience helping folks die and get ready to die. What follows are five important things to help ease the dying process. Remember, we are all dying.
As you review these five things to know about dying, please keep in mind that they are all calls to action. Reading about them is easy but completing them is challenging. It seems to be the modern human condition that we hate to face death, especially our own. It is time to change that.
We covered these five things to know about dying in a recent video filmed in Phoenix, Arizonia. This video includes some spectacular images of a predawn hike up Camelback Mountain in Paradise Valley. It explores the importance of each of the five important things to know about dying. It also provides helpful tips for completing them. There are also some helpful links below. Please watch it and like it 👍🏽to help support our educational mission.
1. Create an Estate Plan
Contrary to popular belief, an Estate Plan, which deals primarily with your material possessions, is probably the least important thing to do when preparing for end of life. As a death doula I have witnessed many deaths and never once have I heard the dying person express any concern about their material belongings.
Nevertheless, it is still an important step in preparing for end of life. At GoGracefully we make creating all your estate planning documents easy. In just a few clicks you too can have your estate plan completed. On our services page, you will find the five most common documents used for estate planning. We have also created a playlist on YouTube with helpful tutorials to get you started.
Are you are challenged by computer interviews and the legal jargon? If so, we also offer support services. We have two levels (scroll down to Beyond DIY) that fit the needs of most people. We are also willing to customize a plan for your specific needs. The cost for this type of service is a small fraction of what most people pay an attorney.
2. Make a Living Will
A living will is a document that addresses how you want to be cared for in the event you are unable to speak for yourself. It is a legal document that appoints a person to be your proxy, sometimes called the medical power of attorney. It is legal in every state and there are several different names for these documents including: healthcare advanced directive, medical power of attorney, living will, Five Wishes, and still others.
The process whereby we create a living will forces us to examine many questions that deepen our understanding of what it means to die. When it comes to dying, of the five things to know, this is perhaps the most universally beneficial step—but not the most important. This is because an honest examination of these questions is very revealing about how we approach death.
In creating a living will, we need to really understand what “life support treatment” means and when it applies. For example, it is one thing to know what CPR is and another thing entirely to understand the beneficial outcomes in proportion to various injuries and disease processes when CPR is used. Ask almost anyone if they would want life support treatment and the answer will be yes. However, when you paint a clear picture of potential injuries and illnesses the desire for life support goes down. Again, in my years working as a death doula for hospice, I have rarely seen a patient express interest in any of the invasive procedures that are included under the umbrella of life support treatment.
3. Face Your Fears
At first glance, this important thing to know about dying may seem cliché. This is far from the truth because so few people are truly willing to do it.
When we peruse a list of phobias it is easy to see the majority of the top fears include one common element. Can you figure out what fear of snakes, dogs, spiders, heights, and many others all have in common? The answer is pain. And for many of us, death equates to pain and suffering.
Is this true? Certainly it is and was true for some. However, many deaths, even deaths from painful disease, can be managed in such a way as to eliminate or dramatically reduce pain. (This subject will be addressed in depth in a future article on this site.)
Facing fears requires a degree of honesty that few are willing to practice. As a start you can try examining some questions like these:
- Who am I willing to die for? My spouse? My children? A stranger?
- Is there a difference in my answers? Why?
- Do I want strong pain medication like morphine if I have pain?
- How do I classify levels of pain before I take medication for it?
- Am I willing to sit through pain for the goal of mental clarity?
- Is there any reason to be hopeful around death and dying?
- Do I have anxiety over money? Why?
- Am I willing to speak my views in public?
- If yes, does it change when the people are more numerous or more important in the eyes of society?
Once these questions (and many others) are answered it will become quite clear that there are things we fear. Often times patterns will become very obvious. For example, a devote religionist may find great comfort in the life after and thereby not fear death, but at the same time the thought of suffering great pain in the process is terrifying.
Again, reading about this information will not help you on the journey. Take a minute now and create your list of questions and answers so you too can face your fears.
4. Bring Your Spiritual Practice to Dying
This is the most important of the five things to know when dying. Whatever spiritual or religious practice we enjoy it has a huge role to play when it comes to dying. The problem is that so few of us actually rehearse mentally the way our faith will will buoy us in the end.
Part of the problem is that we fail to separate the dogma of theology from actual religious experience. Theology might say we go to heaven, but speaking to the Source of all comforts us in a way that goes beyond words. The atheist may rationalize God into obscurity, but his willingness to live a life of kindness can create a deep internal comfort that can be called forth at will. The devote Christian may insist that Jesus will save her soul, but she might have no visualization of what that might look like. Who cares if any of the above are right or wrong!
The point of bringing a spiritual practice into dying is so we can have a comforting mental picture when our time to face the transition of death is upon us. Just as money matters fade away on the death bed, so too, do all theological contentions. What matters then is our mental poise. What is comforting us in that moment? Moreover, how are those present using our rehearsed faith centered practices to further comfort us in our time of travail?
Share Your Plan
The last of the five things to know when dying may seem simple, but like the others above we must go deeper. Simply handing the executor a copy of your will is not the same as explaining to your heirs the rationale of your choices contained in the will.
Consider the living will discussed above. If that documents states that we intend to forgo pain blocking medication in favor of mental clarity there are many factors to address. Did we choose a medical power of attorney (MPOA) that will honor such a choice if we are exhibiting pain? Loved ones hate to see their beloved suffer and it will require a strong will to honor such a request. Did we inform all involved of this choice? Doctors and institutional care facilities will often ignore such a request unless the MPOA is a very strong advocate for your wishes.
There is also something called a vigil plan. In it we state how we want the final days and hours to unfold. A good death doula can help create such plans. Such plans are then posted in the place we will spend our final time here on earth. Vigil plans are usually less than one page long and communicate to all present how we want the environment managed. Would it have any significance if we could control our final surroundings?
- Who do we want in the room?
- What sounds do we want to hear?
- What smells are relaxing?
- Do we want to be touched?
- Is sadness welcome?
- The list goes on . . .
Please Die Now
Truly, if you are dying—and we all are—these five things to know can make a huge difference in how things unfold. Each of them will require some effort, but in the end the payoff will far exceed the invested energy.
When I tell people I am a death doula they usually show a sad face and reply, “Wow, that must be really hard.” Nothing could be farther from the truth. Helping others at this most intimate and magical time is truly a blessing and it is mightily confirming of a loving universal plan. There is no other way I can explain truth, beauty, and goodness I have witnessed.
Yes, there are happy endings or as some might call “good deaths.” In my experience, such final moments seem to go disproportionately to those who are willing to die now.