According to a 2017 Kaiser Foundation study, 7 in 10 Americans wish to die at home. Contrary to this desire, half die in nursing homes and hospitals. Pain is a major barrier to a peaceful death, with half of Americans dying with uncontrolled pain. All this can lead to fear and a denial of death. But the good news is that there are ways to go about preparing for a good end of life. Katy Butler has spent three years interviewing hundreds of people who have witnessed good deaths and hard ones. Here is some wisdom she has found to share with us.
Nobody wants to think about their own death. But this SF Chronicle article says having a vision for how you hope for it to happen is one step you can take. Start from what it would take for you to die in peace. Then work backwards from there. Maybe there’s someone you need to thank or forgive. Do you want to hear poetry or bible passages as you pass away? Tell someone about these wishes. In addition, appoint someone to speak for you if you’re unable to.
If you’re facing a life-threatening illness, make sure you know the trajectory of your condition. Have your doctor sketch out how things may progress. Knowing how you will feel and function in the remainder of your life will probably be just as useful as knowing how long you have left. By knowing the likely progression of things, you can prepare for things like hospice. You can even consider switching your emphasis from cure to comfort, if your condition becomes fragile.
One piece of advice that we find particularly important is to find your “tribe”. Maybe you have family available nearby. But either way, find some people you can connect with and count on. It doesn’t matter if they’re from a quilting club, your church, or your yoga class. Finding these people will surely benefit you now as well as later on in life.
Finally, think of death as a rite of passage. Of course death is scary. The unknown always is. While we can definitely influence our lives, we cannot control them. And the same goes for our deaths. Dying is the ultimate loss of control. But at the very same time, we don’t have to be passive about it. Aim to shape your life, all the way to the end.