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They say there are two things in life that are unavoidable, taxes and death. Neither has to be a painful experience but I can’t manage your tax. But saying goodbye to a loved one can be less painful with some careful management and sound approach.
As you or loved one approaches the last chapter of a life and beginnings start to close, many times the person only has their family and personal dignity left. As the caregiver you need to honour that dignity, as well as the wishes that preserve it. Remember, we want to add life to their years, not simply years to their life.
There will probably come a time when your loved one cannot tell you what they want in the final stages. That time may come sooner than later so make certain to take the time now to discuss your loved one’s feelings on life-sustaining medical treatment, hospice, last rites, and a final resting place. Discuss it with the rest of the family unit so they know these feelings and you can honour those wishes without strife when the time comes.
The decision on whether or not to remove life support treatment can be a very sensitive issue. Some people want to have every medical procedure that can be done to extend their life and sometimes without common sense or reasoning until all options are exhausted. There are others who just want to go quietly, with enough pain medications to sustain them until they pass.
It’s essential to understand what your loved one wants. Death itself is not failure. Sadly some families think they have failed if they have not exhausted every medical procedure and technology available. Such life extension often precipitates more difficult problems (bedsores, infections, worse illnesses) that cause great suffering. In either case, your loved one will die, only the circumstances of that death can be changed.
Some of the most traumatic situations occur when the spouse or adult children do not understand the dying person’s wishes. Each tries to maintain their own version of what they think dignity demands, and, many times families fight and family harmony is lost. This only causes a rift and can be stressful for the dying one.
The second level of trauma can occur right after death, at the funeral. By making sure that your loved one arranges a well-planned, prepaid funeral to avoid issues at the funeral parlour and it can become a celebration of life.
Letting your loved one die with dignity is important. Dying with dignity means making sure you carry out the dying person’s last wishes.
You don’t want someone who won’t be able to “let go” at the end be your loved one’s prime health care decision maker. No one we’ve met ever wants to die slowly and in pain. If there is one adult or child who cannot let go of a parent or loved one at the end, then don’t let them be the ultimate decision maker under a health care Power of Attorney because they will not honour the person’s last wishes. You have to have the right person in this role.
Our best advice if you are facing this time, is watch your own activity for burnout and get help early – there is a lot of support services available.
Embrace hospice care and the hospice care team of doctors, nurses, aides, social workers, clergy, and volunteers as their experience will truly be beneficial to managing the journey.
Above all, spend quality time with your loved one. Your presence alone is valuable to them.