What to Expect When You’re Dying

I was struck recently by two articles (We Need To Talk About Death, and How To Plan for a Good Death) about dying, specifically mindful dying.

As a woman who was pregnant in the 90’s, I gestated babies before the internet information boom, when the best information was still to be found in books–and there was no greater source of information for pregnant women then than the 90’s classic, What to Expect When You’re Expecting.  Although my copy of the book promptly got thrown into the fire around month four, with the bleating on (and on and on) about the Best Odds diet, it did nudge me towards exploring and understanding the options and choices around birthing a bit more, and ultimately led me to create a birth plan–which, if I had stuck to it and not started yelling for an episiotomy, would have been the roadmap to a fully non-interventionist, med free birth for my son.   At the very least, though, creating a birth plan forced me to consider what I knew and believed about birth, what I might possibly have control over, and what I needed to do to prepare for that path;  and at the point when your body is rebelling, doing things you didn’t expect, ask it to, or really even WANT it to, helping your mind to get comfortable with the realities is one of the only things you can control, and a good way to bring some peace to an unfamiliar experience.

In much the same way, getting comfortable with death (your own, your loved ones’, the universality of it) and examining what you believe around the process can open the door to end of life planning, and allow for the same deliberate, mindful approach to the end that a birth plan brings to the beginning of life.

In this article, a mother speaks about the unthinkable–making space for her terminally ill teenager to die well, in comfort, deliberately enjoying the time he has left, making specific plans for how to bring in the end.  In her own words, from the article:

Mrs Langton-Gilks…says that without doubt the way her son died “is going to be the single biggest achievement of my life. Instead of going back and forth to hospital hoping he was going to be cured and putting him through more suffering, we focused on keeping him calm and comfortable at home.

“He had a stonkingly good party with all his friends. But mainly we just chilled out and kept things as normal as possible.”

David died three months later at the age of 16. His last lucid words were “I love it here”.

That does look like a ‘stonkingly good party’ up there, does it not?   (And I definitely think we need to pick up the word stonkingly for use in the USA ASAP!)

Because of her experiences, helping give her 16 year old a considered, comfortable, deliberate end of life, this mother is now an advocate for open end of life planning.

“You wouldn’t dream of giving birth without some idea of what to expect and a birth plan” says Mrs LangtonGilks.

“Yet we face death with no equivalent preparation. We need to get to the point in society where it is as acceptable to talk about a death plan as a birth plan.”

Additionally, when we don’t let death come as a surprise, when we know our and our loved ones’ wishes, we can make better choices about where the end care should take place, how much intervention or effort should be expended, what quality of life should be maintained and at what cost–thus also avoiding the panicked bad-decisionmaking that comes from sudden need and lack of preparation.

There are many ways to get to comfort and familiarity with death, to the place of thinking through and knowing your end of life desires.  Death Cafe in many cities around the world is a monthly opportunity to discuss all things death, to explore dying and all its considerations at your own pace in the safety of like-minded folk.  Online communities, blogs, books, Twitter-it’s all out there, for you to explore at your own pace, to begin to make peace with mortality.  And with the peace, the acceptance, to make actual PLANS for your mortality–your dying, your funeral, your legacy.

Need help with the funeral and deathcare plans?  I DO THAT. Need help finding resources, whether deathcare providers or legacy concerns, digital estate, will planning?  Ask me–in this current world, the resources abound, and the only limitations are your willingness.  Let me give you some ideas, and maybe help coach you through that!

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