One of the great mysteries of life is, “when we will face our death? What will the experience of dying be like? And what, if anything, awaits us on the other side?”
While we can’t completely control the when or the how of our death, we do know that it is inevitable. It’s a rattling truth for many people, but at least we are in it together because mortality is one thing we all have in common! Thankfully, there are steps we can take to increase our chances of an empowered death.
Planning for end-of-life is a way to safeguard your wishes and
protect your family from the pain of not knowing what you want.
There’s plenty of research that shows the value of end-of-life planning. Atual Gawande says people who discuss and record their end-of-life wishes, “are more likely to die at peace and in control of their situation, and to spare their family anguish.” When illness does hit, people who have shared their end-of-life wishes also report greater satisfaction with their medical care. There’s benefits for the here and now, as well. The act of talking about death can actually soften your fears and help you live a more peaceful and meaningful life.
Though many of us are afraid to discuss death with our friends and family for fear of upsetting them, studies show the opposite is true. The Conversation Project found that 53% of people would be relieved if a loved one started the conversation! Sharing your wishes with your loved ones gives them a better understanding of your values and goals. This is especially important for the people who will be making decisions for you when you are incapable. Ultimately, these conversations equip your loved ones to make good choices for you. And knowing with certainty that they honoured your wishes can ease their grief and the bereavement process after your death.
“Planning for death is one of the most empowering things you can do.
Thinking about death clarifies your life.”
- Candy Chang
Let’s also talk about the availability of healthcare and why this should spur you to make plans for your future.
The scarcity of healthcare services is front-of-mind for many people, especially those ages 55-73 (affectionately known as boomers or “the silver tsunami”). And they are right to take notice. We are about to enter a unique time in our society. By 2036, 1 in 4 people in Canada will be over 65 years old (Stats Canada). In Victoria alone, the number of people 85 or older will rise from 40,000 today to 121,000 by 2035. Longer lives means many people will spend their final years managing two or more chronic illnesses. These stats tell us that our population is growing faster than our capacity to provide care (Victoria Hospice, 2018). Though it may seem unnerving, we are lucky to have the foreknowledge of what our health system will look like so we can make our plans accordingly, now.
The Good News
People with an advance care plan are less likely to have overly aggressive treatments at end-of-life. This means you can focus on comfort or palliative care in your home or in a hospice setting, rather than receiving life-saving interventions you do not want and which take up valuable hospital resources.
Talking about your end-of-life wishes while you are healthy is one of the best ways to ensure your wishes are met and that you and your family are ready when the time comes.
Will you be prepared?
What motivates you to get the conversation going with your loved ones and to record your future medical care wishes? Tell me in the comments!
When I first started working in the field of deathcare, I was worried that no one would want to talk to me at parties. What would I say when asked what I do for a living?
“Ummmm, I help people plan for their eventual death?”
In this lonely fantasy of mine, I imagined the guest spitting out their drink in shock or suddenly excusing themselves to “take a phone call.”
To my surprise, I’m actually quite popular at parties. It seems that death is “in.” It’s trending! I’m finally a part of the in-crowd! The validation feels nice. But I don’t want to seem too trite. I believe my new popularity actually signals the start of an important and long worked-for culture shift where people are remembering the power of accepting death.
In an ideal world, preparing for end-of-life is something that happens from birth. It’s woven in to the fabric of our lives, so commonplace that we don’t always know we are doing the important work of preparing for our inevitable end.
But most of us didn’t grow up that way and we are now struggling to catch up. And by “catching up” I don’t mean you need to hang out at cemeteries (though there are some beautiful ones in the Victoria area that are great for a picnic as well as several music festivals held at local memorial gardens). Instead, start by creating just a little space in your life to think and talk about death.
Here’s a few ways you can start:
Thanks for sharing your precious time with me. Please share this post with people you think it might inspire.