Our choices do influence how we die
Our choices do influence how we die
Palliative and end of life care in Australia are currently receiving a host of media attention, with most of it focussed on the choices we make at the end of our life. Views are ranging from receiving palliative care, to being assisted to die, to being allowed to take our own life.
These are important conversations to have; for all too long conversations about death and dying have not really taken place at a community level, despite the very personal nature of these discussions. Even health professionals struggle to have these very important conversations with patients and families.
This is such an important subject as it does affect each and every human being alive.
We will all die at some point, so how we die should be of profound interest. But we have, in some western countries at least, pushed it aside and hidden it away because of the difficult emotions that arise for us. We often end up thinking that it’s too hard and too difficult.
But this pushing aside and not considering that death is actually a part of our life has many ramifications for ourselves, our families, and the broader community. What I know from my years of nursing experience is that how we live will affect how we die. This is a community discussion that is currently not happening.
It’s not about blaming anyone at all, but really stopping and taking stock of the choices we make through our life and the results they have that will influence how we die. For unless we bring awareness to all of our choices they do go unchecked and sit in our body producing emotional and mental issues, as well as illness and disease.
Currently 90% of deaths in Australia are due to chronic disease.[i] Having nursed for over 20 years, I have attended many people who have died from their chronic illness. In my experience, people with chronic diseases can often have protracted, difficult and challenging deaths.
That can be very difficult to watch for anyone and make it challenging to care for them and support their families as well.
Most chronic diseases are due to the choices in how we live. This includes our lifestyle choices, but also includes every choice that we have made and why we have made them.
In researching the regrets of those who are dying, Bronnie Ware, a palliative care nurse, found that there were 5 regrets that were most commonly shared amongst those who were dying: [ii]
- “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
- I wish I didn’t work so hard.
- I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
- I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
- I wish that I had let myself be happier.”
These regrets not only highlight the choices that we make through life, and those that we do not make, but also that we do make them knowingly. Otherwise we would never have these reflections as we end our lives.
These choices, if we are feeling them as regrets for example, would have a significant impact on our wellbeing and any symptoms we experience as we approach death. Being aware of and prepared to communicate any regrets brings opportunities to those who are dying and their loved ones to connect, discuss and potentially heal regrets and their underlying reasons for everyone involved. With the fervour of some of the discussions around physician-assisted suicide, I wonder if these opportunities might be missed or overlooked in the search for the alleviation of suffering?
Planning our death and having conversations with our family about our wishes – what we want and what we don’t want, sharing our values – is all very important, however the best end-of-life planning that we can undertake is the way we live our life and the level of care and commitment we make to bringing the love that we are to all that we do. And it’s never too late.