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Death and Dying

I have been debating wether to post this since I wrote it in March and feel that we do need to look at what can be a difficult subject.

I wanted to offer you the opportunity to look at a real fear of ours which has become highlighted and very real at this time. The fear of death and of dying.

We are all going to die – depending on your beliefs this may be varied, because what actually dies – but I am not discussing that aspect here. Our physical body is going to die at some point in time and, with that, we lose the physical person that we have come to know and love.

The reality that we are facing with COVID-19 is that those that are at risk – be they elderly or of poor health – may die if they catch this virus. But this will always remain the case, COVID-19 or not – it will just happen sooner.

So can we become a little more prepared?

The questions to think about are these:

  • How do I feel about death?
  • How do I fell about the death of a family member, the death of a friend, the death of a colleague?
  • Indeed, how do I feel about my death?

As I get in touch with someone who is dying:

  • What is happening to me?
  • What am I feeling, where am I feeling it?
  • What emotions are coming up for me? Are they changing as I sit with this thought/idea/view?
  • Have you asked the person who is at risk what their thoughts are on this?
  • If you are the person at risk have you discussed this with anyone?

I’d like to share something personal about this topic, as it may help you navigate your way through these times.

As I write this today, it’s nearly a year since I got an emergency phone call to say that my Dad was in hospital and undergoing surgery. The next day I went to see him: he was in ICU on a ventilator and unconscious from the medication given. Let me say that nothing can prepare you for that, and you will be on an emotional roller coaster from that point on. The following day I asked to speak with the doctor, and one of the questions was to ask if I would need to make the decision on wether Dad would have CPR. At that time the decision was made by the medical team, who said that they would not as Dad was not strong enough. Dad was ventilated for 2 weeks, in ICU for just under 3 weeks, but died a couple of days after going onto a ward. Dad took a few days to come round in ICU, but never regained the ability to speak. I spoke with friends who worked in hospitals and they said to expect Dad to get a chest/lung infection due to the fact that he was ventilated and in ICU as this was common. As a family Mum and I had to make the difficult, but correct, decision to place Dad on palliative end of life care.

There are a couple of reasons I wanted to share. Dad was 86, he was a smoker and had Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). He was malnourished because he had lost his appetite for many months before. To be honest I had been expecting a call for the past few years – and I was therefore prepared psychologically and intellectually, but nothing prepares you for the emotions that you experience.

Because we both believed that we still had time, neither Mum nor myself had had the conversation with Dad as to what he would like in this situation – did he want to be kept alive or was he ready to die? Knowing what your loved ones wishes are will make a difficult decision easier.

I have had this conversation with Mum and know her wishes. She is 81, does not want any life saving measures. She says that she has had a good life and is ready to go, I also know that she is missing Dad and finding life a challenge. It is difficult as a daughter to hear this, but knowing what Mum wants gives me the guidance and strength to face what is the inevitable.

Take this time that we have been given to have these talks with your family and friends. How do you want to die, and how do you want to be remembered?

This article is written by Karen Robinson, Clinical Director and founder of Shefford Osteopathic Clinic.