Does a good death exist?
Peg, a music teacher with cancer achieved a good death. She went home. Her ability to be at home, spend time with people she loved around her, pass on a book of music to Hunter, share a hug, say out loud: “you’re special”… that was a good death .
Death – and a good death – was the subject of a Reith Lecture from surgeon and writer Atul Gawande on BBC Radio 4. He calls for “a new approach to the two great unfixable problems in life and healthcare – ageing and death”. His lecture was titled “The Problem with Hubris”. I had to look up ‘hubris’. It’s extreme pride or self-confidence. You realise that in this age when we can’t event accept wrinkles and saggy bits, just how hard it must be for folk to accept death. Even Madonna can’t get one of her people to do her dying for her. We have to do our dying ourselves. Atul shares his thoughts through the story of his daughter’s piano teacher Peg, facing up to cancer, accepting her mortality.
What’s not a good death?
What’s not good is a death further complicated by unnecessary pain and suffering. Fact: the most common week for surgery for most of us is our last week. Fact: the most common day for surgery, the last day. “Let’s move that up!” says Atul – or even better, avoid pointless pain when it’s just plain time to let go.
Atul talked about how hard it is for the medical profession to deal with death. They are there to save lives after all. Many professionals aren’t good at talking about death. Actually, he is pretty good at it. But he realised just how much he talked at patients rather than listen to them. He discovered that it’s not rocket science. Creating the opportunity for someone to be heard is key. If you want to help someone achieve a good death, ask them what they need! Learn what matters in life – besides just surviving.
Friend of Final Fling, nurse and death doula Rebecca Green agrees: “A conversation about death should be tennis, not darts.” Rebecca and a range of professionals in health, care and counselling share tips on how to talk about death and dying in a Final Fling film on You Tube. At the end of it, Rebecca shares a poem called Listen -reinforcing Atul’s point.
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