We hear the term a "good death" frequently but how is that achieved? How do we help other people achieve a good death?
First, what is a good death? We think that someone has had a good death when they are at peace with dying, they have released regrets and made peace with the life they have lived. I have talked in more detail in my post titled 'What is a Good Death?'
As a hospice volunteer as well as someone who has experienced loss in my own life I have witnessed people pulling away from the dying person, mostly out of self preservation. What does this mean for the person who is dying? Usually depression.
I have had multiple conversations with healthy people who think it will depress the dying person to see their abundant life, how much their lives have. The kids are crazy and work is busy etc., in my experience people want to hear about your everyday lives. They want to know that just because they are dying, it doesn't mean that life everywhere is ending. They want to hear your future plans about vacation and what the kids are doing.
Taking away all the life from a dying person doesn't keep them from thinking about their own death, it just alienates them from yours. When an illness is long the tendency is to treat the dying person so very carefully to the point of removing yourself in case you could hurt or upset them. Talking about that big project at work or the kids soccer game on Saturday helps remind them that there is a world outside of doctors visits, oxygen tanks and sterile gloves.
Life is messy, and as we approach death medicine starts to take over with schedules and pills, tests and procedures. The harried life that we led before illness is replaced with boredom and loneliness, once we can't keep up with the physical demands of the craziness of life, it leaves us behind. Helping your loved ones feel like they are still a part of your life, your families life, is crucial in keeping depression from taking over. Taking the time to answer the phone, text, and most importantly stop in and visit will mean everything to someone at the end.
Don't be afraid (after you have asked permission) to hold their hand or stroke their hair. Physical touch diminishes as we age, elderly people are seen as fragile and the hugs are brief and stilted in order to keep them from being hurt. The chemicals released in the brain when we are touched are critical for mental health. Often, when you don't know what to say, you can just sit and hold their hand. A simple gesture that lets your loved one know that you are there, you care, and you will be there.
My name is Abby, my life has been touched many times by loss and grief. This life has led me to helping others navigate their own grief. I have become a INELDA trained End Of Life Doula and a hospice volunteer. I am not a professional counselor or psychologist and all advice given should be treated as advice from a friend.