The last time I checked, no one I know has a crystal ball. So no one I know can predict how someone is going to die. What I mean by that is whether someone is going to die well.
Much like and easy childbirth, an easy death is hard to foresee. But there are certain concerns that the dying have about when that time comes. According to an article on the guardian website:
“The top concern of the dying is that they do not want to be in pain – then that they do not want to be a burden and thirdly, that they do not want to be alone. The first and last of those are sometimes hard to achieve.”
Hospice and Palliative Care work hard to provide relief from pain and suffering as a person is approaching death. According to an article on American Family Physician:
“Pain control is one of the most challenging tasks that family physicians face when providing care for patients at the end of life. Despite recent advances in the understanding of pain management, pain is often untreated or undertreated. Consequently, a significant number of patients needlessly suffer physical pain and mental distress at the end of life. The challenge for physicians is to provide aggressive pain management and implement strategies to alleviate suffering in patients with pain that is difficult to control.”
A recent conversation with a friend of mine who works in hospice also brought to light the challenges that hospice staff face regarding pain management myths: some families fear the false perception that all hospice does is drug their loved ones until they die. This often gets in the way of adequate and accurate pain management. Therefore, many people who are dying suffer needlessly.
At the same time, many who are dying do not want to be a burden to their families. There are numerous articles and books that talk about the burden families face when taking care of a loved at home during end-of-life. Not only are there emotional burdens, but there are also physical burdens, time burdens, and financial burdens to name a few. Although some family caregivers report that they feel enriched by providing care for a loved one, some also admit that they wish they could get a break from caregiving from time to time. Some family members admit they are not the “caregiving” type, which can cause guilt for the dying loved one. Some people who are dying elect to go to a hospital or other care facility so as not to be a burden on the family.
According to an article from the National Institute on Aging, someone who is dying may fear being alone and feel isolated at times.
- Someone who has already begun to grieve may avoid the dying loved one
- A doctor who feels he can not cure the patient may become discouraged
- Family members who do not know how to help their loved one or what to say may stop visiting
- People who are dying begin to reflect on relationships and have fear and regret about the way they may have treated people
This article could have easily been multiple pages discussing the three main concerns of the dying. The purpose here is to be aware of these concerns when you are working with someone in end-of-life. Nearly everything written suggests that just being there for the dying is one of the greatest comforts you can provide as a caregiver. Holding their hand, a gentle touch or a soothing massage can make a person feel connected and less isolated or alone.
One of the most important things you as a caregiver can do to help families with a dying loved one is to encourage conversations about end-of-life care and funeral wishes. Visit our website to learn more about how to be prepared: http://www.schoedinger.com/plan-ahead/
Julie is the Director of Community Relations at Schoedinger Funeral Service.