Thinking about life's end
‘I feel strongly - as someone who will himself die one day, and also
as a professional who has spent decades working with people’s anxieties
about death - that confronting death’s reality allows us, not to
open a noisesome Pandora’s Box, but to re-enter life in a
richer and more compassionate manner’
Irvin D. Yalom
It’s never easy to talk about death, especially our own or that of someone precious to us. As a society, we rarely acknowledge it openly, but the fact remains that death comes to us all. Of course, if we are seriously unwell we are likely to become more aware of our mortality, but even in times of good health, the end of our life awaits us at some point.
If you are a patient of Highland Hospice, staff will engage with you on questions about what your hopes and wishes are, and having a life-limiting illness may prompt you to take action in a number of ways.
Whether or not you or someone close to you is unwell now, this page offers information and links which may be of help as you decide what is important for you. Thinking about death in advance can help in making things less problematic for you and for those you leave behind. It can also create potential opportunities for good things to come out of difficult times; both in the future and also in the present when death may be very far off.
We are all part of a rapidly aging population with a growing belief that we should have what we want. To receive care centred on our wishes at the end of our lives, we need to know what these are and find ways of communicating these to those close to us.
Our death, and the death of those we love, will inevitably involve difficult times. Spending time thinking about it and talking about it with others does not mean that we will evade this. It may however help by identifying and sorting out avoidable difficulties and complications. Physical, emotional, and spiritual pain may be a given of human life, but we can take steps to reduce how much we suffer because of it.
Links to organisations with resources and ideas for thinking about life’s end
Death and dying can be the ‘elephant in the room’. You may find that your family and friends are more open to talking about it than you imagine, once the ice is broken. For ideas and resources the links below may be helpful:
The Natural Death Society is a charity providing information, resources, and impartial advice on all aspects of death, dying, and bereavement. The society support people to take as much control as they can at a time of life which can easily become dominated by professionals.
Good Life, Good Death, Good Grief is supported by NHS Scotland and aims to make Scotland a place where there is more openness about death, dying and bereavement so that people may be more aware of ways to live with death, dying and bereavement and feel better equipped to support each other through the difficult times.
Compassion in Dying is a UK charity working to inform and empower people to exercise their rights and choices around care. They have developed the website My Decisions, which allows people to draft an Advance decision or Advance Statement online at no charge.
Death Cafes are places to meet others informally with the objective of helping us all to talk more comfortably about death and to 'make the most of our finite lives'. Look out for a café near you. The website has good resources and links too.
Nearing the End of Life: A Guide for Relatives and Friends of the Dying This information booklet offers information and suggestions on how to approach the difficult times when someone you love and care for is dying. It looks at the physical, emotional, and spiritual progression of someone who is dying, and the impact this can have on you as relatives and friends, especially if you have not been with a dying person before.
The Digital Legacy Association Particularly for younger generations, an increasing part of life is carried out online: on PCs, laptops, tablets, and smartphones. The DLA provides information and advice about how to preserve your digital legacy, pass down your digital assets and learn about your rights in relation to UK law.
It's OK to Die is an American resource centred on planning for your own death. Its name may be a little upbeat for some, but it offers lots of ideas.
The Fair Funerals Campaign We all expect to be able to have the funeral we want for ourselves or for the person we love. Sometimes the financial demands make this impossible. Fair Funerals campaigns for a society in which the cost of a funeral does not make a difficult time even worse.
Funeralzone offers a wealth of information, including a list of national bereavement support services. Various Highland funeral directors are listed on their site.
Pushing Up The Daisies is an organisation that encourages people to consider how the time immediately after death can promote wellbeing. They can offer guidance and support on how to tend to a body at home and alternative funeral arrangements.
For some people, reflecting on death is something they wish to do within a spiritual or religious tradition. Our Hospice Chaplain, or your own minister of religion can talk with you about this. The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying is perhaps the best known published resource in this regard. Christian resources can also be found such as The Art of Dying Well, which also view facing death’s inevitability as being helpful in wanting to live more fully.