How many of us (or people in our circle of love) read What to Expect When You Are Expecting by Murkoff and Mazel? We knew what each phase of our pregnancies would bring. We became informed about our options and developed a birthing plan.
Unfortunately, little has been written about another life transition – the dying process — until now. There is one thing for sure: every person will die at some point. It is in our best interest to learn about this process so that we will be better able to support our loved ones, and so that we may be prepared ourselves.
In various Bridges trainings last spring, several volunteers mentioned a new book that was hot off the press: Being Mortal by Atul Gawande. I knew I had to read it. WOW! What a game changer. I couldn’t put the book down, fascinated as Dr. Gawande helped explain the birth and half-century of development of modern medicine and its effect on elders – sometimes called the “medicalization of aging.”
But it’s not just about older adults; the message is the same for anyone living with a medical crisis or serious illness. He suggests five questions to ask our loved ones:
- What is your understanding of where you are and of your illness?
- What are your fears or worries for the future?
- What are your goals and priorities?
- What outcomes are unacceptable to you? What are you willing to sacrifice and not?
- What would a good day look like?
How simple but profound! After these conversations, we can have clear directions from our loved ones on how to proceed. I have already posed these questions to my loved ones.
When someone we love has has begun to transition out of this world, or enter the dying process, a must read is Final Gifts: Understanding the Special Awareness, Needs and Communications of the Dying by Maggie Callanan and Patricia Kelley. With real-life examples and an easy-to-read style, this book helps the reader understand what to expect during this transition process. I have had the blessing of accompanying several of my loved ones during this transition – always with this book nearby. After one man passed away, one of his his doctors exclaimed: “I can’t believe he’s gone! He seemed so strong this week.”
“You didn’t see the signs,” I responded. “They were all there.”
I took my book and gave it to him – and he gratefully received it, eager to learn more.
My hope is that discussions about end-of-life issues will become as natural as discussing pregnancy and childbirth. And just as Baby Boomers have pushed through natural childbirth and helped to “normalize” many discussions that used to be difficult and private, I hope they will inspire us to become comfortable with discussions about the dying transition.