Don’t Talk to Me About Death
The poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning uttered the word: “Beautiful” during her final breath. The scientist Charles Darwin, remarked as he was dying. “I am not the least afraid to die.” And Thomas Edison, the great inventor, stated “It is very beautiful over there” minutes prior to his passing. But where is “over there”? Who will be there? Will I also not be afraid?
For most of us the thought of death is more than we can bear. I remember trying to talk with my mother many years ago when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer. It wasn’t until her final days that she let down her guard and allowed for an open honest conversation of her fears, concerns and wishes. Why are we so afraid to talk about dying?
In my years as a nurse, I have honed five simple questions that address people’s resistance to talking about death. I open up the conversation by saying, “There are some very important issues I want to address as we plan for your care. In order to do that I need to know what your wishes are during the final stages of your disease. Can we talk now?”
I then ask the following five questions.
1. Where do you want to spend your final days?
2. Who do you want to be present?
3. Who do you not want around?
4. As your disease progresses and your heart stops, do you want CPR and hospitalization?
5. What would your perfect last day look like?
Inevitably everyone (except one) wanted to die in the cherished surroundings of home surrounded by loved ones. Precious few however are given the opportunity to express their true wishes and realize that desire.
There is an excellent DVD, Consider the Conversation that focuses on these most important questions and issues. You can find information about screenings of “Consider the Conversation” at www.ConsiderTheConversation.org. You can purchase it for home viewing or educational purposes.