I’ve heard people talk about the need for a “good death”. Is there such a thing?
There definitely are “good” deaths and “bad” deaths, but hopefully you can avoid the latter with the help of palliative care and hospice.
What’s a “bad” death? It’s when someone is suffering at the end of life, as evidenced by any of the following: inadequately treated pain, delirium, restrained in bed, not being bathed or turned to prevent bed sores [which can occur in less than 24hrs if we don’t turn a patient], agitated and calling out for help. If you’ve ever watched someone you love have a “bad death”, you’ll know exactly what I’m describing.
What’s a “good” death? Although some might say any death is ‘bad’, that is unrealistic since we are all going to die and the only choice we have is ‘how’.
A helpful perspective comes from Buddhism which focused on the relief of suffering. The four core qualities of a peaceful death are: having a peaceful mind, not to suffer, not being alone, and a family’s acceptance of the patient’s death.
Critical to this is family acceptance: ‘modern medicine’ has so distorted expectations that people have trouble accepting death, resulting in an attitude that often leads to our causing suffering rather than relieving it.
“Not being alone” doesn’t mean that you must be holding a loved one’s hand at the time of death; rather, just attending to their needs. In fact, some patients may not want family present and will wait till they’ve gone out to eat or shower, and then take their last breath – so families should not feel guilty if they can’t be there at that moment!
Taking those qualities into account, a ‘good’ death could be one where the patient: is cared for by family assisted by hospice staff, in their home, bathed daily, on clean sheets, without pain or other symptom distress; and, dies peacefully with dignity, allowing the family to say their goodbyes.
That’s the lasting image we hope to have.