A GOOD DEATH.. (and Unhelpful Expectations)

Conversations around having ‘a good death’ are growing. And frankly, it’s essential that they are. But sometimes taking a too rigid position on our end of life care wishes might actually increase the distress we and our caregivers experience in the dying time.

This is particularly the case if for some reason our End-of-Life plans don’t work out. Just like a good birth plan gone awry and ending in an unplanned emergency cesarean, a death may feel like a fail to the family left behind when it doesn’t follow its intended path.

The train through life to death

‘A good death’ may have become a loaded phrase quite unnecessarily. The notion of what it is to die well is very personal and completely individual experience. For millions of humans past and present, a good death is to die as a martyr in battle. But most of the people I speak with have the words ‘home’ and ‘peaceful’ in their Good Death vocabulary. It is simply impossible to agree on what a picture of good death might actually look like.

Our work in supporting our people in their dying time, is to honour the individual by creating the conditions matching their unique EOL wishes as closely as possible. But it is also in leaving space for the potential emergence of an extraordinary experience – much greater in scope and effect than what can possibly be known or planned for in advance.

In the aftermath of loss, family and caregivers are left to make judgements on whether theirs was indeed a GOOD DEATH. But so often grace descends when we’ve remained flexible enough to assimilate all of those unexpected changes in the circumstance of the dying time, and continue bearing faithful witness regardless. For the one taking leave of this life, it’s our consistency as witness; to not turn away in their dying, that remains the most profound act of love.

This courageous act of staying open to whatever comes, usually also determines how profoundly the gifts of the great Death Mystery are received as blessings by the family that remains. To stay present in love, and to bear witness to the phenomenal transition we call Death is utterly life altering. It is also the final gift of our beloved dead.