Nearly all of us, at one time or another, have dealt with denial in our lives. Most of our denials are fairly innocuous to our daily lives. However, there is one area of denial that can put undue pressure on our families and friends. Talking about death is an area we all must face at some point, but almost no one wants that obligation, or to even think about it.
“Approaches to death and dying reveal much of the attitude of the society as a whole to the individuals who compose it.” – Dame Cecily Saunders
“It is the denial of death that is partially responsible for people living empty, purposeless lives; for when you live as if you’ll live forever, it becomes too easy to postpone the things you know you must do.” – Dr. Elizabeth Kübler-Ross
Family and sociology experts have discussed the usefulness of transparency – the idea of being clear and honest about the patient’s health/mortality situation – and often come up with conflicting answers. The best summation of transparency’s efficacy may be YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary – in other words, everyone’s experience is different). In general, though, our culture is coming around to the realization that openness regarding death is a healthy approach for all concerned.
What do you do when you have a loved one who refuses to acknowledge how grave their situation is? When they continue to behave in ways that are detrimental for themselves or others—refusing care or sometimes even fighting against their caretakers? How do you help them “face reality”? How do you deal with the anxiety you experience in helping with your family member or friend? Who do you turn to in these instances?
Fortunately, these are some of the primary things with which hospice can assist you. Hospice staff have the skills and the experience to help steer you and your family through these difficult discussions. Furthermore, they can help guide you through finding the particular solution to your situation.
There is also the difficult realization of our own mortality. When do we decide that we need help? How do we make the assessment that we are no longer capable of clear judgment? If you are prepared for this kind of discussion before it is necessary, it can make all the difference in your feelings toward the reality. We are all mortal. How much more palatable will we find dealing with the necessary changes at the end of life, if we are familiar with them? How much easier will it be for our family and friends if we have prepared?
There are endless stories about people dying a “bad death”; about the pain and frustration of families that must deal with no knowledge of what their loved one wants for their last months, days, minutes; about individuals dying alone and lonely because they have not indicated their preferences. There are many resources that can point you and your family towards what will help deal with the denial and find solutions.
Refusal to see what is right in front of us, is a normal human trait. We are all experts at this when it suits our needs. But human beings are also prolific planners. We like being in control of our lives—and hopefully will feel the same of our deaths. What better way to be in control, than to deal with the denial, and prepare ourselves for the one eventuality no one can avoid?