Week 10- Lessons For Dying

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The importance of dying well

Death is not the opposite of life, but a part of it. ~Haruki Murakami

Last week, someone I know had a stroke. There are many potential causes of stroke, including genetics, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, smoking tobacco products, drinking alcohol, just to name a few. Nearly all of these could be addressed by including fitness in your life, and over the years, he made some good choices to change the habits that made him unhealthy.

Eating well and quitting smoking are big achievements for a 76 year old man. He has lived a very active life, enjoying friends and the outdoors and his partner for life, his wife. He’s a creator of poetry, stories, gadgets for the home, machine parts, and all sorts of fabrication. He is a funny guy who thinks very deeply about things and it seems as though he put a lot of thought into dying well.

I am not writing this post to scare you into changing your life to include fitness, although that would be a great side benefit! What I’m sharing with you today is some information about the choices this dear man has made and how decisions such as his affect our lives and the lives of those around us.

Important Choices To Make

No one is getting out of here alive.  It’s a fact none of us can run from regardless of how many workouts we do, no matter how many healthy meals we eat. We can prolong our lives, we can make them more active, healthy, fun, and comfortable. But we cannot, at least up to this point, escape death.

How do you want to die? Do you want to be in control and make decisions while you are healthy and able to make clear decisions with lots of good information? Or do you want your loved ones to fumble around and try to remember the bits and pieces you’ve said off-hand over the years and possibly argue with one another about what they think is best for you at the end?

It’s an important exercise to determine what’s best for you and your partner or other family members you are close with when you are faced with your final moments in this life. Aside from a will that directs what happens to your personal belongings, there are a few other documents that you can draw up yourself, without the help of an expensive attorney that will save you and your loved ones much stress and struggle when it’s most necessary to do so. These decisions will allow you to die with dignity, in the way you want to, with control over the situation as you would if you were completely responsive during that time.

Health Care Proxy

Advanced directives that help loved ones, doctors, hospitals, emergency personnel, and hospice workers understand what you want in your final days can be determined with a Health Care Proxy.

Advanced Directives describe many important details including the care you wish to receive and the people who might be able to make decisions in the event that you cannot, as well as giving a Health Care Proxy authority to advocate for you to be sure your wishes that are spelled out in the Directives are carried out.

Your state may have specific laws about Proxies and may have specific forms for residents of your state to use. Links to your state’s forms may be found at CaringInfo.org. You will likely need witnesses that do not include the person or people named as Proxies and in some states you may need a Notary to sign it.

Some details that can be decided are…

  • Naming a Proxy (someone very close to you who fully understands and is willing to carry out your wishes)
  • Organ donation options
  • The type of care you wish to receive in the event you cannot communicate it to medical personnel. This may include whether or not you wish to be resuscitated if you stop breathing, whether or not you want hydration or nourishment either orally or in an IV, artificial respiration, surgery, medications, and pain control for comfort.

 This Is What Dying Looks Like

I would like to focus on a common directive that people choose and give details about how it plays out in real life and death so you can be informed about the benefits and challenges of making this choice.

Many people comment in their lives statements like “I don’t want to be hooked up to a bunch of tubes and needles, just let me go naturally.” This may be said because a person doesn’t want to live in a hospital for the rest of their lives without the ability to take care of or communicate for themselves. This is understandable if it is your choice, and it can be just that… your choice.

The reality of this decision is very important to know about so you and the people who care about you can really understand the consequences and benefits of this choice.

There are many emotions this week as different family members and friends struggle with the decisions my friend has made. He has a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate), as well as a refusal of artificial hydration and nourishment.

When he first came in, things looked pretty grim and he was given a very poor prognosis. After a day or two, he was able to sit up in a chair, recall some details, and could say his name and eat a few bites of food. This improvement gave some the sense that recovery may be on the horizon. However, after a few more days, it became clear that those initial improvements may have just been a last few nice moments with a fairly communicative man we all enjoyed knowing through the years.

This week, he is rarely awake and isn’t eating or drinking anything. And because of his advanced directives, the hospital cannot and will not give him any artificial hydration or nutrition through an IV. It’s actually very comforting seeing this in process and knowing that it’s very possible to make these decisions and that someone will respect your choices and carry them out for you.

It becomes clear to many over time that because he is not eating or drinking, this has turned into an exercise of comfort and waiting for him to die. Remember, this is his choice. He has chosen to go through this for a matter of days, rather than live a life that is nothing like his former life for possibly many years to come. That was not the life he wanted at all, and so he chose this path.

Let’s understand some things about this choice. All indications are that the body does not suffer when deprived of nourishment and hydration. In fact, it’s clear that the body prepares itself for dying through this process, releasing endorphins that ease pain and discomfort.

Research also shows that introducing nourishment and hydration may actually stop this process and cause more discomfort. Often, the final stages include slipping peacefully into a coma and taking your last breaths anywhere from 3 days to 2 weeks after your last intake of food and fluids. For more information on this process, visit this link at WebMd describing the process of dying when refusing nourishment and hydration.

It is very comforting to me to know that, although it’s hard to watch a human being die, his wishes are thoughtfully being carried out with dignity and respect by medical personnel as well as his Health Care Proxy who cares so deeply for him.

Conscious Dying

You may also choose the environment in which you die as well as a number of other details that impact the experience. Click on this link for a guided document to help you plan your Advanced Directives for Conscious Dying, in which you describe the details of your dying experience as you wish for them to take place, including who is with you, music or reading to take place in your presence while you navigate this process, even special mementos you’d like close to you in those moments, and much more.

While it’s hard for us to embrace our humanness and let these processes take place without fighting it, it can be a real blessing to have these decisions made before something happens to us and it’s too late. In our daily lives, we can breathe more easily knowing that we won’t have to live on a ventilator, unable to function on our own if that’s not a life we would choose. Our loved ones can feel secure in knowing they will not have to watch us suffer a life they know we never wanted.

When you get these ideas documented, be sure people know about them and that your Proxy has a copy of your directives and knows where the original is. Let anyone who might be involved at that time know what your wishes are so there is understanding and compassion for the Proxy as they help you by enforcing your wishes during your time of greatest need. This can be a difficult job and they need all the support they can get.

Have you thought about what you’d like your final days on this beautiful Earth to look like? Have you taken control of your health care decisions regarding your end of life circumstances? Please share your thoughts on this in the comments below.

This week, take some time to think about this important issue and how it can impact your peace of mind as you go forward in your fit and healthy days. Check out the links I’ve provided and perhaps you can move forward to get this important health task completed.

Thanks for reading, and indulging me as I fulfill my need to share these thoughts with you on how to die well. This topic is so deep and I could write ten more posts on it and how it impacts our ability to live well.

**Update- As I finish up this post, I’ve gotten word that our dear one has passed away. For just over a week, he was surrounded by people who cared for him, had laughed with him and listened to his great stories and poems over the years. I am so grateful that he and his Health Care Proxy, his loving wife, have shown us all how to do this well.

Good luck this week with your goals. If you want to be sure to catch all of our posts, take a minute to connect with us.

Be well…live well…until your last breath.