What Is a Good Death?

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July 21, 2006 at 10:44 am  •  Posted in Death And Dying by  •  0 Comments

Introduction
How to Experience “A Good Death”
Comfort
Freedom from Pain
Surrounded by Loved Ones
Introduction

John was a family man. He was also a man of faith. When he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at the age of 52, he thought “God will heal me.” His doctors told him to get his affairs in order. The doctors told him that he should go home and receive hospice care. Hospice programs help terminally ill individuals live their remaining days with dignity.

John still thought, “God will heal me.” He felt good at first. His daughter came home from college. His pastor and many friends came to visit him on a daily basis. They prayed with him and offered comforting words to his wife and daughter. Three weeks after his diagnosis, John could no longer get out of bed. The hospice agency brought in a hospital bed, provided him with oxygen, and propped him up with pillows to prevent bed sores. His wife and hospice nurse helped bathe and dress him. They also gave him a cold towel for his forehead.

On the day of his death, six of his close friends, his pastor, wife, and daughter were all at his bedside. They began singing old gospel hymns, John’s favorites. John closed his eyes, holding the hands of his wife and daughter. After the third hymn was finished, John breathed his last breath. The room was extremely peaceful as his pastor said, “God has finally healed John.”

How to Experience a “Good Death”

A good dying experience looks different for everyone. What is important for one person may not be important for another. However, there are several universal components involved in experiencing a good death.

Comfort

There are many ways to provide comfort for the dying. Comfort can mean having a comfortable bed to lie in, having soothing music to listen to, being clean and having your hair brushed, or having lip balm and ice chips to prevent chapped lips and a dry mouth. We can help provide a comfortable atmosphere for our loved ones, whether it is in the home, hospital, or nursing home. One may have a specific request, and if it is possible, we should try to fulfill the request.

Freedom from Pain

Many people do not realize that pain, anxiety and other symptoms that individuals experience when they are near death can easily be managed through medicine. Hospice physicians and nurses are usually best trained to assist in relieving pain and other physical symptoms. There are also non-medical ways of relieving pain and anxiety, such as meditation and massage.

Surrounded by Loved Ones

Although it may not be true for everyone, most people do not want to die alone. Having family and friends around is comforting and helps to reduce anxiety, depression, and fear. Often people will “wait” to die until they have been reunited with a loved one who has been distant. It is also true that some people wait until their loved ones leave to die.

Some people are hesitant to visit those who are dying or try to keep their children away from those who are dying because they are scared of what they will see. Social workers can help explain what is happening and alleviate the fears of adults and children. It can be very meaningful for the dying to see and hear their loved ones, especially children or grandchildren. The last senses still intact in the final phases of dying are hearing and touch, so be sure to continue to speak to and touch your loved one.

A hospital or hospice social worker can help you with other ideas in assisting your dying loved one experience the most peaceful death possible. Do not be afraid to talk to your loved one about what they want because they most likely want to talk to you as well. Social workers can help facilitate these discussions if it seems too difficult.

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