Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Morning meditation - Dying well

"We have, in some ways, the women of the baby-boom generation to thank for the hospice movement. They refused to see their parents die surrounded by the machinery of intensive care and said that they would, as an alternative, bring their people home where they could really take care of them. Even though medicine had to be downsized, humanity was upsized in that transaction, and I think all to the good."

Thomas Lynch, The Life Of Meaning, p.10

I went to a day long workshop about 15 years ago on death and dying after my two children were killed. One of the sessions was a panel with a minister, a psychologist, a hospice nurse, and a physician. At the end of their presentations they took questions. I asked, "What would each of you say is a 'good death'?" There was a long pause and the anxiety for some reason went up in the auditorium. They all skirted around the question and none of them answered it. They each said in so many words that because it is a value laiden question, basically "to each his/her own."

It seems to me that we all have to die at some time and it may be in a situation in which we have some control and choices and maybe it will be sudden and unforeseen and we will have very little control and choices. And yet, when we have some control and choices, I think there are better ways to do it than others.

Thomas Lynch points us in the right direction when he talks about the hospice movement and it "upsizing humanity." Unitarian Universalists believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every person and how does this value get implemented in the dying process? It seems to me that people should die in the presence of love, respect, dignity, and good palliative care. People should be able to die in peace with their spirits attended to by people who are not afraid and who can be there as a support in the dying process. Most people, when they die, want to know that they are loved and will be remembered. They want to die with the faith and hope that everything will be okay.

Unitarian Universalism, with its emphasis on heaven on earth and the here and now instead of of suffering now to attain our heavenly reward after we die, could, and should, develop a dying ministry which helps people die well. It could be a mark of our faith and bring comfort to millions if not billions of people.

As the breath of life leaves us, we should rejoice in a life well lived which includes a death well done. What better way to do that than cared for by our family and friends?

Leave a comment on deaths you have witnessed, attended, and anticipate for others and yourself. How have they been handled, are they being handled, do you wish they would be handled?

1 comment:

  1. All in all, my mother's death was a good one.

    She spent the last weeks of her life at home--but chose (with medical advice on the subject) to go back into the hospital for terminal care for the last several days. Good choice, all in all, I think. We visited with her when she was mostly there or somewhat there, brought her her favorite ice cream... played music, and just chatted -- mostly around her, as she was generally too weak to actively participate (though not always). We played music she loved. We took advantage of the situation to push for the utmost in pain relief for her.

    In the end, some of us were with her, holding her hands, telling her it was ok to go... and playing her favorite music for her.

    Within the context of what was possible... there's almost nothing that could have been done differently that I'd do or ask for.