Friday, July 1, 2022

Dying in Control (Research, Hospice Story)

Are you ready to die? Because I have been a hospice volunteer many years, people sometimes assume that my patients and I talk about death a lot. We don't. But death-related discussions are important parts of advanced care planning and palliative care. Some people also assume my volunteer visits must be depressing because no one really wants to die. Wrong again. Some of my patients have stated they looked forward to death and gave reasons that had nothing to do with depression.

People have complex attitudes about death, dying, and ethical considerations. A Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) titled “Dying2Learn” provided an opportunity for researchers to explore societal and personal attitudes about wishes and beliefs regarding death and dying. Among research results highlighted were desires of patients to exercise choice and control in relation to dying. Some individuals wanted control while preferring not to know that they were dying. Others wanted to know as much as possible and still be more in control. Even after legal matters related to death were in order, some patients had concerns that others might not consider important, but the element of control still mattered.

All this talk about control reminded me of my hospice patient named Rose. Are you ready to die? Rose was. This is what she said to me about her upcoming death that clearly indicated her need for control:

She began by asking me, “How old did you tell me I was?”

I responded, “You’re ninety-nine. You’ll be one hundred years old on your next birthday.”

“One hundred years old is too old. I don’t think I want to be that old.”

“There are three other ladies in this nursing home who are older than that. One is a hundred three. We talked to her last week during your wheelchair ride.”

“How much longer will it be before I make a hundred? I don’t know if I want to wait too much longer.”

“It’s only one more month. I remember you said you had spiritual talks with your minister. If you decide to wait, I’ll get you a big balloon that looks like a birthday cake.”

“I guess I could wait. Yes, I think I will wait. That way I can celebrate my hundredth birthday. When I do get to heaven, I can tell everybody I lived to be one hundred.”

And that’s exactly what she did because she felt she was in control.

(Excerpt from Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes)

Frances Shani Parker, Author
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback and e-book editions in America and other countries at online and offline booksellers. Visit Hospice and Nursing Homes Blog and Frances Shani Parker's Website.