Free Advice: On Death


 Death, the final frontier.

There you have it. There's not a whole-helluva-lot you can do about it though. As adults, we are acutely aware that death is a very real part of life - the finality of it all is incomparable to anything we will ever experience. There is no going back. No "do-overs". It is what it is.
I am no expert on death and dying but I do have a fair amount of 'hands-on' experience in this area that has come, in part, from being a Critical Care/ER Nurse but sadly, I've held more than one hand of a friend and family member at the moment of their last breath on earth. I've learned that death can be orchestrated into an intimate, beautiful and loving journey in life.

Yes, I've been a feverish participant during traumatic, no-holds-barred, heroic attempts of resuscitation. People who were too young to die and had so much to live for. Children, are most difficult. Enough about that for now. Today's post is not about them.

Today's post is about the countless whose lives came to an end despite the technology, medications, surgeries, complications and care we in health-care have provided to them. Today's post is about those who have lived a long healthy life and/or a short one of pain and suffering. Although, not at all scientific, this is what I've learned...
  • The people who are closest to you right now will most likely be with you at the time of your death.Let them know how feel about end of life issues. Mr. Something wants to be told "Hey! Everything is looking good!" and as difficult as it may be for me, I will honor his request.
  • If you find yourself to be assisting someone on their journey of illness, chances are they chose you to be there. 
  • If you find yourself at the bedside of someone as they take their last breath, chances are they chose you to be there.
  • If you are not around someone when they die, chances are they needed you not to be there.
  • There are far worse things in life than death - but, that's a whole other list.
  • Strangely, people may choose to die alone or when that certain someone who is having the most difficulty with their loss leaves the room. How many family members have said to me (upon hearing the news of their loved ones death) "But I just left to get a cup of coffee!".
  • If you can, think about telling your loved one that you will miss them. Let them know that when it is time to go, you wish them peace and assure them that you will be strong and/or will help others through it.
  • Thank your loved one for their impact on your life. I thanked my dad for helping to put me through nursing school. A sacred profession. I know how proud he was. Did he hear me? Who knows? It doesn't matter. The process of dying is a process for the living as well.
  • Sometimes, people will wait to die until someone they have not seen in a long time arrives at their bedside.
  • Grief is natural. Give yourself time to cry. Avoid drugs. They could delay the inevitable and you might just find your delayed grief rearing itself at a most inopportune time.Two months after my brother died. I couldn't stop crying. Was it the Ativan that "held me together" during and immediately after his death?
  • "Wakes" are a good thing. Everyone gathers at the home of the departed family member following the service. They eat, drink, swap stories, cry and laugh. Royally pissed-off at the thought of having a party after the tragic death of Susan, (my 25 year old sister-in-law), my wise Aunt Marie said ”Joanie, I have wakes to help people get beyond their grief and this party gives everyone permission to laugh again. Life goes on and know that Susan will forever remain in your heart but it’s time to get back with the living.”
  • Sometimes "ritual" can help with the journey. A few days before the death of my dear friend, Rob, I arranged to have his hair cut (he was all about looking good). I requested that locks of his hair be saved for me. Tying them with ribbon, and placing them in small photo note cards for his family and closest friends, my memento of Rob remains treasured today..

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