Suffering and death are part of living. Disease, trauma, cancer, pain and death accompany us every day. Martin Luther noted that the three enemies we mortals face are sin, Satan and death.
Yet death can teach us about life and give us focus. We all want to learn how to become more compassionate and useful. We want to know how to face suffering and use is constructively.
We know that some people have a better death than others, passing from this life with less fear, pain and resistance than others. The following, while not exclusive, give some general guidelines for dealing with the dying:
1. The dying must be allowed to walk their own path. Our role in helping our loved ones is not to “fix” them but to give them love and encouragement as they walk their path. We may find that the things that defined them and that they used to cling to are melting away. Our ethnicity, educational and economic backgrounds are going away. Yet the person’s core beliefs, their faith and their love may remain strong, even at death. We should be a loving presence.
2. If someone asks you to help them die, do not refuse. The person is not asking you to play Dr. Kervorkian. The person is asking for you to give them permission to go, to make them comfortable and to feel loved. Perhaps they are in pain and need relief. The medicine may hasten their death, but they do not want to cling to life. For you to refuse them is both cruel and selfish.
3. The dying person may no longer be of sound mind due to the ravishes of disease and age. This is not the time to try to change wills, trusts or powers of attorney. The person may not have “testamentary capacity”. Any attempt to change beneficiaries, the treatment of beneficiaries or material terms of legal documents will be met with suspicion and my well be invalid.
4. The time to update your will, trust, power of attorney and other estate planning documents , is when you are vigorous and of sound mind, not when you are in the final stages of life. Since none of us is guaranteed tomorrow, the wise person will prepare well in advance. This will free you from worries and concerns because you know that everything is taken care of in the way you want it to be. Your family will appreciate the love and concern that you have demonstrated and you will have a peaceful and good death.