A Good Death

While this is often challenging for both patient and physician, it is a reality for many. In this gap, there is an opportunity for people to address a new set

of hopes, fears and wishes.

Due to an increasing medicalization of the end-of-life process, we have become more and more removed from death. We shelter our children from death, we are careful how we talk about it, how we frame it. In popular media, death is often portrayed as painful, disturbing or unnatural.

Recent studies have shown us that 90% of Canadians want to die at home surrounded by their comforts, whatever those comforts are.

In reality 60% of Canadians die in hospital and 10% more die in nursing homes.

Another gap.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

With so many options and community resources, the possibilities for individuals to make choices around where and how they die are increasing. With advances in pain medication, and education for loved ones on what it looks like when the body begins to shut down, people can be supported to co-create a personalized, meaningful and beautiful life, right up until the very end.

The gift of realizing the impermanence of life, at any stage, can allow an individual to dig deep into what is authentically important to them and to consider their unique legacy.

 

Questions can arise.

What have I accomplished in my life? What do I have left to do?

Sometimes people can’t tackle these important questions alone and need help with unfinished business or relationships.

Legacies can be created allowing people to know that they will not be forgotten.

Different questions can be asked in response.

Write your own obituary? Design your own Celebration of Life? Would building your own coffin bring you closer to your truth, give you a sense of control?

You may not know now what your questions, ideas or wishes will be, but it is likely you will have some.

As end-of-life doulas we are working to help recognize the fear that we are taught to feel around death, and to ease it with a loving acceptance.

Not only for the person who is dying, but for those that surround them.

After a loved one dies, it is so much easier for friends and family to move on when they know that they were able to help their loved one die according to their sincerest values and wishes. They can know they were tuned into the present moment with acceptance, that they had choice.

There are so many things we can’t control, things we wish were different. End-of-life care is a bridge between where things are and where we would like them to be. A place where we can work to accept what isn’t within our power to control and to take hold and embrace what is.

And here is where I think we find a good death.

What does it mean?

Every person’s conception or idea of a good death may be different, but there are wants that almost everyone who is facing the end of their life shares.  Most people would like comfort, safety, knowledge, rest, quality care, and most importantly, choice.

We are fortunate for our health care system in Canada. It is accessible and we have talented and educated physicians, nurses and caregivers who dedicate themselves to healing us.

But there is a gap.

For many people facing end of life decisions, there comes a point where the best course of treatment is no treatment at all. The complications of one more surgery or one more round of chemo will not improve outcomes and will only serve to prolong suffering and side effects.

Me and my boys

Tracy L. Chalmers

End of Life Doula

Servicing North Vancouver and West Vancouver

Professional Affiliations: North Shore Hospice, Douglas College, End of Life Doula Care Association of Canada