How to die


People live as they die.

If they constantly worried about their health and each and every little pain and symptom in life, they will worry until the end. If people were unconcerned about their health in life they will be slack in seeking help and treatment. If they were bad-tempered and impatient in life, they will die impatient and bad-tempered. Gentle people die gentle deaths.  (I am excluding violent deaths from the statement above.)

In Hospice I am amazed to see with how much stoic dignity some people die. Many of my acquaintances have died in the past 14 months under our care. People that I knew were dignified, in life, died peaceful dignified deaths. Up to the end they will say “please” and “thank-you.” I have witnessed, and experienced people hold onto life with every fibre in their bodies (as did Vic). I have also seen people “decide” to die. We see it in their eyes. Death is a decision.

Dying is not a two-minute thing… some people die slowly over many days. In these slow, lingering days it is our job to keep the dying pain and symptom free. Comfortable surrounded by their loved ones.

In a perfect world people die at Hospices surrounded by their loved ones – in theory that works, only in theory.

Many people are dropped off at the In-Patient-Unit and as soon as it is “decent” the family will leave to rest… Some don’t return. Some do after many phone calls updating them of the gravity of their loved ones condition. Some will pop in for the final moments. Some don’t. Some stay. They enfold their loved one with compassion and love, complementing us in our job. Some people die with their loved ones united in prayer; others die with the family singing gentle songs. Some die telling their loved ones to f… off…..

I have come to the conclusion that people without a spiritual and/or religious base die bad deaths. They swear at their families and the world until their final day… They worry about their new cars; a business deal – some have alcohol sneaked into the IPU. They deliberately remove their diapers and urinate on the sheets; one even defecated on his sheets defiantly grinning at the staff. A final “f— you” act. No, he was fully conscious of his actions and the effect that it has on those caring for him. He was dying from cancer not Alzheimer’s.

Seeing someone die is quite amazing. It is a beautiful experience witnessing the soul leave the body. There can be no doubt that there is life hereafter.

A young woman died in the IPU. She lingered for 8 days. Finally only her mom was left next to her bed gently whispering words of love and encouragement. After she died we prepared her cancer ravished little body for collection by the undertakers. When they arrived I escorted them to her room. She lay there with an angelic smile on her face. I called her mom and said “you have to see this…” When her mom had left her side it was just a tiny little bag of bones that lay there. When her mom next saw her she had this peaceful, angelic smile on her face. Truly a message for heaven for her grief-stricken mother.

I hope that I will be stoic and brave in death. That fear of the “Great Beyond” will not overwhelm me. I hope that I will be dignified and brave in death. I am such a ninny in life.

10 thoughts on “How to die

  1. This is so powerful, I hardly know what to say. The image of the mother and daughter brought me to tears. Tersia, you are such a terrific writer and I appreciate you very much. Thank you for touching me. :)

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  2. A very lovely post. I too hope to die a peaceful, quiet death surrounded by my family. I think you learn how to die a good death when surrounded by a lot of it. I wonder what kind of death my father had. He had become a bitter, angry man. I was not there, but this post makes me wonder. It also makes me want to live a kind, peaceful life so I can have a kind, peaceful death. Thank you for a beautiful post.

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  3. Tersia – what a post. First off, that quote – it says it all.

    Philip talks to me all the time. All I have to do is turn my attention to him. Last year, when I was walking around thinking I just wanted to die, he said to me, “Mom you will die as you live, and if you live in fear you’ll die in fear. You think you want to die, but you don’t – you’re not ready.” And every time I go weak in the knees, I start to think that I want to die, and I hear him say, “You’re not ready. And Natalie needs you.” So I practice dying – every time there’s a change I resist, I try to breathe and just let it be. Because dying will be the biggest change and I don’t want to go kicking and screaming.

    You are a gift. I hope you know how many people you touch. Vic’s love is right there, coming through you. What a pair you are; I love you both so very much.

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  4. As a nurse, I’ve seen people die. And it’s all just as you’ve said. It is a humbling thing to witness. You my friend are in a privileged position. You have been in their shoes and have become a comforter. God bless you for your strength, courage, and compassion. ❤️❤️❤️

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  5. certainly not in the hospice setting but over the years in the military as a nurse i saw my share of people die. i too have heard that people die as they live and in the majority of cases i would agree with you. as far as spiritual or religious base i can’t agree with that. i have seen many who profess their love of god and belief in a higher power beg not to die. i hope that i will die as i have lived, but if i don’t then i will hope that my loved ones will understand that disease has the power to change people.

    vic was blessed to have the family she did, you were all there for here to the last minute. i believe i will have family til that last moment as well. i have seen people die alone and there are situations where it cannot be avoided. it breaks my heart to hear of such anger in a person’s last hours.

    you are doing an amazingly open hearted loving service with the stepping stone. big hugs and love to you my friend.

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  6. You are in a position to make a huge difference. How wonderful for those leaving this world, and those left behind, to have you, and your experience, and educated heart holding their hands.

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