Not easy to discuss death, but a plan to make it a good experience will make it easierMarch 22nd, 2012 by Paul Hensby
There’s probably no harder conversation to have with anyone than to tell them they are dying, or that they should consider their death. Indeed so difficult do many people find it that it’s never broached. The reluctance is understandable, discussing a person’s death is likely to cause upset or raise suspicions.
So we take the easy way out, and the end of life decisions are then made for the dying patient rather than by the dying person. Hence the medical professionals will assume that the family expect medical intervention.
Family members too will take decisions, usually confirming the doctor’s view that they want prolonged medical intervention so their loved one lives longer. Some will decide they haven’t the ability, facilities or inclination to care for a dying loved one and so the person whose life has run its course is left to suffer unnecessarily prolonged intervention in a frightening and often lonely hospital.
Very few medical professionals or close loved ones will think about the sensory elements of the dying person’s end of life experience. Where do they want to die? Who do they wish to be present, or not present? What do they want to see – photos of loved ones, lovely views? What smells would they like to experience as their life ends? Do they want their hands held, to be caressed, to be massaged?
They will, of course, want to be rid of concerns, so issues such as their funeral wishes, their probate, and the care of their property and pets, should be dealt with in advance so they can ‘die in peace’.
The Royal College of Physicians’ report that recommends that doctors are regularly trained on communicating end of life treatment with their patients is clearly limited to their role in providing suitable end of life treatment. Quite rightly, they see the need for planning for the death well in advance in the hope that patient and doctor have a meaningful discussion. The palliative care, which should extend to the spiritual and physical, will be limited to the medical.
My Last Song believes that by having a personalised death plan, the medical decisions and the existential decisions can be discussed and agreed at the same time, with the involvement of the patient, the medical professionals, loved ones and if appropriate ministers of religion. We’ve created a death plan template to make it as easy as possible to fill in, edit and save.
The result should be a more comfortable and comforting end of life experience, and if this is the likely outcome, then the discussion is less difficult to initiate, less likely to be misconstrued.