Is it possible to die happily? Well, relatively few people find the prospect of death a happy thing, but as death is coming to us all at some point it’s worth pointing out that we have it within our gift to die with some level of contentment.
The idea of death isn’t something that fills our daily thoughts. When we do confront it there’s nothing positive to dwell on. The process of dying and the act of death brings with it thoughts of sadness, suffering and pain. But before we push death under the carpet for some other time isn’t it worth giving a little thought to ways it can be a positive experience?
How would you like to die?
I guess most people would say something like, ‘I’d like a peaceful death. One on my own terms, free from pain, in my own bed surrounded by loved ones.’
It’s certainly better than the alternative, and by that I mean a sad, lonely, torturous and frightening death.
If the first option sounds better than the second – and of course it does – the simple fact is, like so many other things in life, you need to prepare in advance. And I’m not talking about the six months before you think you’ll check out. What we’ve learned from people who are dying is that in order to prepare for a good death you need to have achieved quite a few things in life, such as:
Anticipate Your Regrets
Bronnie Ware, an Australian nurse, spent many years caring for the dying. During that time she began to document the regrets that people shared with her. Given the chance to do things differently, five common themes arose. They were:
- having the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
- I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
- I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
- I wish I had stayed in contact with my friends.
- I wish I had let myself be happier.
This last bullet point on happiness is very common. The comfort of familiarity and fear of change results in the pretence of contentment. Many longed to laugh properly and have some silliness in their lives. It’s sad that happiness is seen as a choice when it’s too late to change things.
Later in Life
Most people will, not surprisingly, want to start putting things in order in the golden years – typically age 60 plus. But it’s not all about legal stuff. There’s still time for fun and enrichment.
Yes, it’s the bucket list. A bucket list, in case you don’t know, refers to all the experiences and achievements you’d still like to undertake. It doesn’t need to be grand and it’s probably best if it’s sensible. You can’t go on a day trip to the moon because none of us can – yet. What you could consider is:
- that meal you always wanted to try
- the book you meant to read
- the movies you never got around to seeing
- the massage you always wondered about
- the family gathering you always intended to have
- the visits you never got around to doing
The Practical Stuff
Getting your legal affairs sorted out is one of the most important things you need to do. This effectively allows you to retain the control of your wishes even after death. Plan your estate with a legal will for complete peace of mind. Make sure to indicate your preferences for your funeral, or memorial services. Specifying everything related to your property in your will is the best way to make sure that your property is distributed according to your wishes.
Controlling Pain & Discomfort
Most people say they want die in their own home. In reality, almost three-quarters of the population will pass away in a hospital, hospice or care facility. The reasons for this are mostly entirely practical and they benefit the person who is dying as much as their loved ones. Management of symptoms, and especially pain, is often far easier in places where equipment and resources are at hand. Physical needs often increase dramatically later in life and it is sometimes impractical to rely on family members who may need to work, or who may have their own needs. Compromise is often the best solution for everyone.
Spiritual needs at the end of life are important for many people. Spirituality can often give a person great strength and meaning during the final phase of their life. Anything that helps soothe the mind at the end of their life is a good thing. It is not however a requirement. If you have never had faith there is no requirement to take up the challenge against your will. Many people associate births, marriages, and deaths with the church.
If you don’t subscribe to these it’s alright. Religions don’t ‘own’ life and death. We can still be consoled by people who care without the need for a supernatural dimension. The bottom line is, do what’s comfortable for you.
There is often an interim period between independence and dependence. This is the point where we struggle to do everything for ourselves but we’re not quite ready for most things to be done for us. A period like this could last for weeks, months or even years. If you can, get help. There are several charitable organisations that provide different forms of help. Some many lay on travel, others shopping, cooking, home nursing care or simply conversation and social contact. For extensive needs a caregiver must be highly professional as well as loving.
Thinking About Death
The notion that death can never be good is a complete myth. We can have a peaceful and worry-free death, but it all depends on preparation. Completing all outstanding duties and wishes can lead to a point of complete satisfaction that you have lived your life fully. You have done everything that can be reasonably expected of a person and what follows is the natural conclusion of life.