For those of us who have experienced the death of a loved one, it is nearly impossible to forget the circumstances of their passing. For sudden and unexpected deaths, this is particularly true. Those are memories that can double as nightmares for most of us, and for those who have been there, it is hard to believe that we have lived to love another day. By taking the time to plan for our own good death, we have an opportunity to create a memory that will allow our passing to be one of peace, comfort and dignity. But it is not just our passing that will be a part of the memories that we will leave behind…it is also the conversations we have with others about it.
Imagine sitting down with an elder loved one who tells you that they need your help. Many of us are already saying yes even if we are not saying it out loud, but then your loved one says, “You know I am getting older and I won’t live forever. I want you to help me to be sure I die naturally and not hooked up to machines forever.” What would you say? Would you tell your loved one that they are just being silly…they are fine and there is no need to worry about such things? Or might you say something like, “Tell me more about what is on your mind.” If you give some thought to how best to show your love, what do you think is the answer that your loved one most wants and needs to hear?
I am not sure if there is a subject that is more intimate than one in which we share our thoughts about our own death or that of a loved one. As we anticipate the sadness of loss or the fear of the unknown that death represents, it draws on our very core of humanness. We may have religious beliefs that inform our thinking on these topics. Or we may not. But it is certain that listening to an elder person who seeks conversation about what, for them, is a certainty growing ever closer, is perhaps one of the hardest things we will ever do. More so, when we love that person deeply and their conversation reminds us of the fact that they will not always be here for us. It is possible that some of us will say no to the request – it is too hard to talk about such things – it is far too painful. But if you are one who has the courage to have these kinds of conversation, you will be helping to ease the burden of an elderly person who is aware that achieving our own definition of the good death requires the help of others. It is a time when the simple act of listening can bring peace of mind to your loved one. ..and perhaps a beautiful memory to you.
But talking about death is scary. Gratefully there are resources to make this easier. Your local hospice should be able to advise readings or persons in your community who are experts in helping us plan the ways we would like to spend the last days, weeks, and months of our lives. Clergy persons are good to speak with as well. Keep asking until you find the assistance you need. (Send me and e-mail)
Be assured that the sharing that takes place with a loved one when the certainty of death is acknowledged, can be almost sacred. Exquisite listening is a way to give of yourself. Try. Have love and courage.