Is there pain after death?

Andrew, ( ), suffers from mantle cell lymphoma (MCL).  Andrew says “I am a husband, father of a teenage son and daughter, brother, a Canadian government executive with a wide range of international and domestic experience, who likes reading, film, music, walking, cycling, skating, being with family and friends.”  Andrew is a phenomenal source of information.  I sometimes think he has a full-time research team constantly researching all aspects of lymphoma and terminal illness.  I often refer back to his blog.  Please take time to visit his blog.

Andrew posted this earlier today.  You may know that palliative care is my favorite hobbyhorse.  I have fought for my child to have a “good death”.  Thank you Andrew for sharing this article with us!

Is there pain after death?

Posted by  on Oct 5, 2012 in Cancer CareFeaturedLife & Health | 4 comments

Is there pain after death?

A grandfather-father-husband-salesman-cook-gardener-hiker-gentleman, adored by many, is struck down by cancer.  His disease is particularly horrible, spreading quickly though his body causing damage not only to bone and organ, but to sinew and nerve. He suffers terrible pain for weeks, relieved poorly with inadequate doses of inferior medications, thrashing in misery witnessed by his kin, always at the bedside, ages seven to seventy.  Finally, uncomfortable and agitated until the end, he dies.  Does his pain continue after death?

Pain that is not relieved in a person’s life continues after they are gone, held as a sordid memory by loved ones.  Just as we retain treasured thoughts of joy, wisdom and warmth, we preserve images of pain.  Unrequited suffering contaminates memory, preventing healing, healthy grieving and closure. This pain in turn flows across our communities, touching many who may never have met the patient.

This does not have to be somatic discomfort to be treated with pain medication.  Shortness of breath, seizures, nausea, wounds and bleeding cast intense images that last more than one lifetime.  Uncontrolled anxiety or fear may contaminate a family and corrupt its fiber, as can loss of spiritual path, loneliness, or guilt.  Failure to settle past wrongs or mixed intentions results in a loss of opportunity, a psychic wound that will never heal.

A poorly managed end-of-life experience can transform families for generations.  I recently heard of a young man who suffered a miserable protracted death from cancer.  This resulted in his wife becoming chronically depressed and isolated from her family.   She committed suicide, leaving their son a life as an alcoholic and drug addict.  The ripples from that one cancer spread out and, through the network of that family, caused pain for many more.

When we think of end-of-life planning, we focus on those immediate moments for the patient and family, as well we should.  The opportunity to live one’s life well, even at its end, should not be denied, and must be the first goal of palliative medicine and hospice.  However, we cannot overstate the need and potential to protect and even nourish future generations by treating pain of all types in patients with terminal illness, and in families sharing that passage.

There is pain after death, and I suspect it is the cause of much waste, anger and tragedy in our society. We must strive to prevent that suffering.  Good things are possible, loved ones can be together, memories shared, and solid foundations laid. Patients, families, doctors and caregivers must protect and treasure even this difficult time of a person’s life, because as one life ends, others are beginning.

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I am a sixty plenty wife, mother, sister, grandmother and friend. I started blogging as a coping mechanism during my beautiful daughter's final journey. Vic was desperately ill for 10 years after a botched back operation. Vic's Journey ended on 18 January 2013 at 10:35. She was the most courageous person in the world and has inspired thousands of people all over the world. Vic's two boys are monuments of her existence. She was an amazing mother, daughter, sister and friend. I will miss you today, tomorrow and forever my Angle Child.

9 thoughts on “Is there pain after death?”

  1. Thanks for the kind words on my blog. I also really liked this piece – Sunrise Rounds is a great blog by the oncologist James Salwitz.


  2. This is a subject that should be discussed far more, and far more openly, but with the terror of discussing death that there is in this society (it’s almost as if people are encouraged to think that they won’t die), it isn’t, more’s the pity. Of course, what you say is so dreadfully true.


    1. Agree. We can all make our contribution by being more open even if the overall tendency is, as you note, in the other direction.


    2. I have read that only the healthy do not fear death. The ill fear a bad death… I was so traumatized by my Mom’s (septicemia) bad death. It took me 5 years to learn to live with her death. My Dad (Alzheimer’s) on the other hand just stopped breathing and it was so much easier to accept. It is a basic human right to have a “good death.” I have seen 1st hand what a difference proper pain control has made in Vic’s life!


  3. this is one of the difficult things about being the one who leaves. to know that your loved ones are going to suffer more than they already have is heartbreaking.


    1. Even before one leaves, I always thought it more difficult on my family to watch me go through what was pretty aggressive treatment than on me.


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