A recent article entitled Scientifically, What is the Worst Way to Die? reviews some of the most horrendous forms of death by torture ever devised. Then it concludes that when every aspect is considered, including the intensity and duration of the pain inflicted and the degree of psychological suffering, the very worst possible way to die is the way that most of us will die. It notes that today “the leading causes of death are heart disease and cancer, which together accounted for 63 percent of all deaths in the US in 2011. People with these and many other diseases often live longer than their ancestors, but those final increments of life are more drawn-out and painful.”
And this news it even worse than it seems, since people who die in pain as the result of an acute event tell us they were out of their bodies during the process. Those who have died in auto crashes, for example, talk about having watched their fatal accidents from above or from the roadside. So it is likely that those being hanged, drawn and quartered also were safely out of their bodies. But our elderly loved ones too often have inflicted upon them years of suffering in the delusion that even such a damaged life is better than the alternative. It is not! The least that those we love deserve is comfortable and peaceful deaths.
My father had a stroke when he was 86. He was blinded and paralyzed on his right side. I sat by his hospital bed for most of a day and then the whole night through to comfort him and to prevent the insertion of tubes, the repeated removals for assessments and tests, the tying him down when he was restless, and all the other pointless stresses that modern medical care demands.
Dad came home by ambulance the next morning. His body had been in constant motion, but the moment he passed through his own front door he was at peace. During the two weeks that he survived, there never was a moment when Dad didn’t have his wife or a daughter by his side. Many friends visited him, announcing who they were and talking loudly, and Dad would smile when he heard their voices. His last two weeks on earth became a celebration. I hold forever in my heart one night when I began to read from the Book of Psalms to help him fall asleep, and each time I would stop reading he would open his eyes. I read Psalms to him that whole night through, choosing the beautiful and uplifting ones, until at last he fell asleep as the dawn was breaking.
Could my father have had a few more years of life on this side of the veil? No doubt. Would he ever again have been happy here? No. To bring him home was my mother’s decision. It was one that his clueless doctors resisted. Twenty years later, I see even more clearly what a loving gift her decision was.
Your parents are going to die before you do. Letting them go is likely to be tough. So please resolve now that those you love will not die in protracted pain and fear, alone or in the care of strangers. Prolonging the suffering of an elderly parent will not change the outcome. Instead, release that weary caterpillar to become a joyous butterfly!
photo credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/oneworldgallery/4718065045/”>daystar297</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>cc</a>
photo credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/levycarneiro/3960791644/”>Levy Carneiro Jr</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>cc</a>