When death doulas first meet their client, often a person who’s dying, the focus is on the impending death itself. That’s an important element of what we do. Someone is needing an end-of-life doula so they can own part of the process. Therefore, we must find out what the client wants for that time and how we can get there. But we must also talk about living. We want to specifically talk about the remaining days and how our client wants to spend them.
First things first
In order to live life to the fullest, it’s helpful for the person who’s dying to think about some end-of-life realities. You can do this on your own or with professional help. Wonderful therapists and psychiatrists exist to help with these hurdles. Either way, thinking through some concepts makes the final days or months a more peaceful time.
Accept the situation.
We can call it dying, transitioning or passing away, but we must call it.
Decide what life means.
Every stage of life requires us to look at things again. As we pass through certain milestones, or the natural process of aging, we tend to alter or adjust our views. Most things aren’t at all the way we imagined them. So why would death be any different? Now that you have an idea about how your life will end, think about what life means, and keep thinking.
Deal with the practicalities of the illness.
Research what you’re facing and put a plan in place. Ideally, this includes a team of loved ones and medical/emotional support.
Honor your needs.
Do you want company, or would you prefer some solitude? Perhaps something in between? Understand that this might change as the days, weeks and months progress.
Communicate with friends and family.
Be clear so they can support you in ways that are helpful.
Participate in your own care.
If you’ve picked a medical team you trust, follow their advice.
Be aware of any and all limitations.
If you aren’t able to eat certain foods or travel great distances, abide by those realities.
The dying process is easier if you’ve apologized, in a meaningful way, to anyone who might need to hear it. Remember, this is for you. Not them.
Farewells can be done remotely or in person. Sometimes writing letters makes it easier to remember everything you want to say. Doing this months ahead of time usually makes people feel so much better. As if a huge weight has been lifted from their shoulders.
Consider your spirituality.
Make peace with a higher power, whatever you consider that to be.
Talk about death.
Ask questions about any and all aspects of death. Seek answers from your doula, nurses or physicians. Clients who are dying are often relieved after hearing our answers.
Make end-of-life plans.
This can include finalizing advance care directives, estate plans and financial trusts. Also, power of attorney and guardianship for yourself or dependents.
Be gentle with yourself.
There’s no way for people to plan their emotional response to dying. It’s challenging and difficult. Every night, take a moment to comfort yourself. You’re doing your best.
Now. How do you want to live the rest of your life?
This is a process. You might not settle everything above, but that’s okay. If you’ve spent some time doing a lot of the work to get to acceptance, and are planning for the practicalities of death, consider now the rest of your life. Maybe you don’t know what to do with the time that is left. Here are some questions that might help you figure it out.
What matters to you?
This is one of those rare moments when it actually is all about you. Think about how you enjoy spending your time. For some people, it’s about daily visits to a favorite park. Others want to read or be read to and have a list of favorite books. Some people want to plan a birthday or graduation party before they go. Other families have done this with weddings and anniversary events.
Who matters to you?
Are there any loved ones you’d like to visit with again or embrace one last time? Do you want your children to visit? What about a favorite pet? Doulas can also reach out and coordinate video calls and reunions, no matter who the person is, far or near. Make a wish list. See what you and your team can accomplish.
Are you committed to a cause?
Some people are devoted to their religion, the environment or another important issue. You and your doula can coordinate a fundraiser for whatever is important to you. That fundraiser can be a party, an online campaign or a remote event open to the public.
Do you want to create something beautiful?
Have you ever wanted to write your life story? Some folks enjoy creating a legacy project that includes important objects and pictures. Others might want to make precious jewelry derived from a special painting or even a fingerprint. These will be considered invaluable gifts for family or friends after you’re gone.
Are you spiritual or religious?
Sometimes talking to a priest, rabbi, imam or other spiritual leader is soothing. They often have experience with end-of-life concerns, providing comfort and, for some, answers.
What deserves your time?
Think about how much energy you have and where you want to spend it. That’s your most important currency now.
Some inspirational bucket list items
Here are some meaningful ways people have used their last months, weeks or days to the fullest.
– Family or friend reunion.
– Special dinner at a favorite restaurant.
– A tattoo.
– Living funeral or memorial service.
– Moving up the date of a wedding, bar mitzvah, anniversary party or other special event.
– Road trip.
– Hot air balloon ride.
Doulas and support teams can help facilitate these ideas and more. Get as much joy as you can out of your final days. Use death to live.