Dying is part of life. Dying is not a failure but a pivotal part of human experience. No-one truly knows what is like to die but individuals can learn how to face it. Elisabeth Kubler Ross and David Kessler wrote extensively on death and the needs of the dying. They discussed vital aspects in how to counsel and listen to the dying.
One of the biggest things they emphasized was to treat the dying as if they are still alive. To many times, the dying are seen merely as an old shell of what they once were. The dying are defined by their disease, not who they were. The term my “dying grandfather” is applied instead of my “grandfather who is dying”. Dying is not the essential quality of the person. The essence of the person remains.
When listening to the needs of the dying, one needs to see the full humanness of the person. They need to see the light within the person’s eyes, not the disease, the machines keeping the person alive, or the crippled body. The person still exists.
It is essential to treat the dying with dignity and respect. They deserve to be spoken to about their condition. They deserve to be involved in the decisions, if conscious. They deserve to be recognized. This is family should not shun the conversation of death, or hide their conversations outside the hospital room. The dying need to be treated as living.
The dignity of the dying is critical to maintain as a living person. They need to be listened to, spoken to, and not treated as if they already dead. Hope should never be denied. Hope is a key element. While some may remained to the reality of approaching death, hope can continue to fuel the dying. Since they are alive, hope is still always alive. To die with hope is not a bad thing.
Dreams of a cure, or a miracle are not bad things. Too many times, doctors and healthcare professionals see death as defeat and not part of life. Once the disease progresses to a certain point, they no longer view the person as alive. They sometimes dismiss hope because of their own defeat. Death, however, is not defeat. Death is natural and is as part of life as birth. Hope for life even during terminal illness does not mean one is in denial of his or her condition but that one is alive and ready to face any challenge, even to the very last breath. This is the essence of the human spirit and the true meaning of being alive.
One cannot label the dying as dead but treat them as alive. One must see in the dying, the face of a man or woman in her prime, not defined by old age or disease. Whether one believes in miracles or does not, whether one is spiritual or not, one cannot dismiss hope if they work with the dying. Hope is a powerful thing. Whether it prolongs life or does not, it definitely does not hurt the person. If the hope is well rounded in reason but yet optimistic, one can live while they are yet dying.
One cannot dismiss the final time of death as wasteful or useless. There is always a reason. More time to learn, or teach others. Family may come closer, or learn new things during the dying process. Maybe the dying wishes to see one last person.
It is important to grant hope but also to discuss death, to let the dying know they are still a complete person. They can accept death with dignity as well as fight for every breath, or they may succumb to death with the love of others surrounding them. Only if the person is given the dignity they deserve while dying is there a true possibility for a happy death.
Dignity and hope are key elements of living the fullness of death. It may seem contradictory to say living the process of death but that is what it truly is. When we view the dying as already dead, there is no true process, no true experience of this ultimate event. Death is part of life and hope and dignity are essential elements of “living” a “healthy” death.
I recommend reading the classics of Kubler Ross, as well as David Kessler’s works on the matter. Their insight, experience and analysis of death are essential to anyone working in the field of hospice, pastoral thanatology or grief counseling.
If you would like to learn more about death and dying, or would like to become certified in Pastoral Thanatology, then please review AIHCP’s Pastoral Thanatology Certification and see if it matches your academic and professional goals.