We are burdened by an enormous emotional and financial baggage for being silenced by our society’s taboo against talking about death and dying. Both individually and as a society. There is awareness in other societies that educate their members about the reality of death and the processes of dying and grieving. Unfortunately, we do not. We are left to understand and figure it out for ourselves. Often we depend on doctors and family members to tell us what to do once we are faced with the possibility of an impending death. Most of us are too bewildered to take charge of the situation ourselves. We don’t know what to declare, what to do, how to handle or deal with the situation or to grieve.
Consider the following realities:
- A vast majority of elders do not put their personal affairs in order before they die
- Most of us have no idea how to discuss the reality of death with our loved ones and are thereby denied the opportunity to share our thoughts, feelings and fears with each other. As a result, many terminally-ill patients put a smile on their faces and silently suffer in emotional isolation.
- Many doctors view their inability to cure a patient as a professional failure and are therefore reluctant to suggest palliative care even when they know there is little to no hope of recovery.
- A majority of hospital patients rely on doctors to advise them of their healthcare options; they fail to take into consideration the vested interests of the doctors and hospitals. Therefore, many terminal patients are given false hope by myriad tests and procedures that are actually double-edged swords; they protect the doctors and hospitals against potential lawsuits and provide financial benefit to the doctors, hospitals, and the insurance and drug companies while denying the patient the opportunity to transition into his or her process of dying.
Connecting the dots
On one side, you have family and friends who are apprehensive or uncomfortable being around a dying loved one. On the other, is a dying person feeling abandoned, isolated and alone. How do we bridge that gap to bring these people together? Open communication is the easiest and best way to bridge that gap.
Let the dying person know you are feeling fearful or uncomfortable, or whatever emotion it is that you have, because they’re going to figure it out anyway. It will let them know that you are taking steps to get past it and to give them what they need the most during this time.
Ask the dying person what they need or expect from you. Some dying people will want to talk very openly about their illness and their impending death. Others will want to avoid talking about it and choose to focus more on fond memories or their loved ones lives.
Knowing what it is the dying person wants to talk about during your interactions will go a long way. Some will not want to talk at all but may want you at their side to hold their hand, read them a book or just to feel your presence.