Death Kit: A Starter Pack on Dying

By Angela Gutzer –

It is inevitable. We all will die. It part of the beautiful cycle of life. Although we can not change the fact that we will die, we can make decisions that may alter how we die.

Doris Gutzer, January 7, 1954 – March 18, 2017 Photo: Herbert Gutzer


“WHY CLING”
Why cling to one life
till it is soiled and ragged?
The sun dies and dies
squandering a hundred lived
every instant
God has decreed life for you
and He will give
another and another and another

(translated by Daniel Liebert)
Mathnawi V. 411-414
(translated by Kabir Helminski)
The Rumi Collection,
edited by Kabir Helminski


A recent study published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry identified 11 core themes associated with dying well:

• Having control over the specific dying process
• Pain free status
• Engagement with religion or spirituality
• Experiencing emotional well-being
• Having a sense of life completion or legacy
• Having a choice in treatment preferences
• Experiencing dignity in the dying process
• Having family present and saying goodbye
• Quality of life during the dying process
• A good relationship with heath care providers
• Other: cultural specifics, pets, costs of care

In this article, I hope to address death preparedness to help increase your chances of having your voice heard and honoured at your time of death.

An Advance Care Plan gives one a voice in decisions about your health care. This becomes especially important if you are incapable of expressing your wishes due to an illness or unexpected injury. Many of us have life insurance or disability insurance in case of death or an accident. I argue that an Advance Care Plan should be of equal value.

An Advance Care Plan should answer these questions:

• Who do you want to make health care decisions for you if you are unable to make those decisions?
• What health care treatments do you agree to or refuse?
• Would you accept life support and life-prolonging treatments?
• What are your preferences as to where you would like to be cared for?

Each province has its own Advanced Care Plan that can be downloaded from the site, Dying with Dignity Canada (dyingwithdignity.ca).

So, let’s say you have completed your Advance Care Plan. You have designated your personal directive (the person who represents you if you are not able to in a medical situation), you know what treatment categories you fall into and under what circumstances, and you know where you want to be for care. Now what? Is this all you need to think about before the situation arises?

I would like you to further your death homework to include specificities:

• Who would you like to be with you?
• Who do you not want to be with you?
• Who could support you spiritually? (i.e.; a priest/pastor, medicine woman/man)
• What healing modalities may be of use? (massage, reiki, healing touch, etc.)
• What scents make you feel at ease?
• What articles of clothes or personal belongings bring you peace?
• What music will comfort you?
• What food would you enjoy?
• What would your legacy be?
• What would you like to say in your obituary?
• How can your legacy live on (voice recording, photo album, collection of favourite recipes, etc.)

Now you feel prepared. But there could be more to do to make you and your loved ones’ lives easier. As you gaze around your home ask yourself: Is there anything I can give to family members before I die? Can I downsize my belongings so my family doesn’t need to bear the burden? In the book, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, author Margareta Magnusson guides you through the process of sorting through your “stuff” to lessen the load for your loved ones.

As much as I would love to delve into each category of your personal death kit, I offer my experience to further guide you.

My mother died March 18, 2017. She did not have an Advance Care Plan. She did not have wishes for what would happen with her remains (this will be the focus of the next article).

The setting: palliative care

She was unable to speak at this point. Her body was ravaged from the cancer and ongoing chemotherapy. My father kept feeding her until swallowing was not a possibility. My mother kept her illness a secret. Friends and family were saying their goodbyes with short notice. In the meantime, our family struggled with both the pain of saying goodbye, and the task of figuring out what she wanted for her precious body.

We had an essential oil diffuser going constantly with lavender, frankincense, orange, and Palo Santo. We brought a CD player and had all her favourite Christian music playing: Vineyard Worship songs. We ate together, shared stories, touched her, massaged her, and said our goodbyes daily as we didn’t know when she would leave us.

Each of us sent our own messages of love and each released her as we knew we had to let go.

I often imagine the death painted with a brush with my mother being the painter. Would she have wanted something different? Would she have specificities about how she was dressed and who could attend to her? What were her final wishes? We could only imagine and talk with her as if we knew.

Overall, I feel she died in a good way. A way I will always remember as sacred.

Please give some thought to this article. It doesn’t matter if you are young or old. We all need to have these discussions for both ourselves and our loved ones.

With peace and love,
Angela

Angela is a veterinarian currently working as a locum. Creating her own schedule has allowed her the space and time to invest in the contemplative end of life (death doula) course in which she is currently enrolled.

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