Monday, August 11, 2014

Dignified death

We have lost the ideal of reverence at the hour of death, and put our faith in science and technology instead. That is what has transformed the natural and peaceful ending of life into a violent event. (from "In the midst of life" by Jenny Worth, page 335)

Death is a topic that most people feel very uncomfortable talking about, it is a topic that the media rarely ever approaches and we hide our children away from death so they grow up not truly understanding it and as a result fear it as adults. We think if we don't talk about it, it won't happen. 

I have just finished reading "In the midst of life" by Jennifer Worth (2010).  You may remember Jennifer Worth as the author of "Call the Midwives" which the BBC has made into an excellent series on TV. 

In this book Jennifer document her experiences as a nurse treating patients at the end of their life (and she doesn't simplify or hush over the difficult parts of dying), she provides insight into the struggles families face when deciding what to do when a loved one is dying, she examines how modern hospitals are treating those dying compared to the past and she provides the views from experts in the field. 

Whilst this book may sound incredibly sad and some of the stories are heartbreaking to say to the least - it is also uplifting and encouraging. She doesn't mystify death and due to her Christian faith, she isn't afraid to weaves her beliefs through the book. She particularly focuses on the aged, those who have lived a long life and have reached the end and would have wanted a quiet and dignified conclusion. However, tragically, many families want their loved ones to live as long as possible and therefore request medical intervention - resuscitation/invasive medical procedures - which removes any dignity to the end of ones life.

Has this world been so kind to you that you should leave with regret? There are better things ahead than any we leave behind. ~ C.S. Lewis

Books like this make you think about death and should be a conversation starter with your loved ones. Death should not be a topic that is never discussed, we should not be afraid of talking about death with our children. However I will admit I did struggle to write this blog post and on several occasions over the last week decided that this wasn't the time for me to write about death. My sister-in-law is in a serious condition in hospital and the Lord may come any minute for her. Death is perhaps a little close to home right now, however I read the following verse from John 14: 1-3 and it gave me such comfort. Whatever the Lord decides for my sister-in-law, His decision will be the right decision and we need to trust Him in this. We may not understand why He does what He does, but in time it does become clearer. 

Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”
We cannot escape death - once upon a time children witnessed births and deaths and accepted these comings and goings as part of their lives on this earth. They knew that after death was life, life with Christ ~ eternal life ~ a better life, life without pain and suffering, without sadness and grief. So many people no longer believe this and perhaps this is why they struggle so much in accepting death, as for them, there is nothing after life. 

So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.~ 2 Corinthians 5:6-8

Death is not the end, it is just the beginning of something very beautiful. We come from Christ and we return to Christ

Jennifer Worth died on the 31 May 2011, having been diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus  earlier in the year. I do hope that she was able to die the way she wanted to, in a peaceful and dignified way. And as she writes at the end of her book "reverence at the time of death used to be accepted without question", we need to return to this. 

And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away ~ Revelations 21:4



I was looking at the comments left on Amazon (UK) in regards to this book and I came across one that I liked: I have just finished reading In the Midst of Life and have found in Jennifer Worth an author who can reach out and take your hand, as you journey with her through some of the lives she has shared (6 Mar 2012). She does, in a very gentle but matter of fact way and it makes for compelling reading, I would highly recommend this book. 

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19 comments:

  1. Oh Jo, what an absolutely wonderful post.. We just heard this week that my Father-in-law at the age of 90 has cancer throughout his body.. He contacted each child this week to let them know he would not fight this as the medical field would have him but allow God to take him when He was ready.. He has no symptom...no pain.. they just found an knot under his arm which was melanoma and has spread to his lungs, kidneys, chest and lymph nodes..He is not troubled...He says he has lived a good life and is ready.. As a believer in Christ our attitude of death is changed with an eternal view.. this world is not our home..we are simply stewards of the life we live here and all we have for the Lord..This was a great reminder of making a difference here and now for the Lord... that is what prepares us for the real life to begin in Heaven.. Blessings!

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    1. Knowing we have a far better home to go to makes such a differences, but of course, none of us want to die and it can take some people time to accept it. It sounds like your father-in-law is going about his end of life in a very dignified way. At 90 he has certainly lived a long life. But we are sometimes taken unexpected and we need to be ready and have our faith strongly concreted in The Lord.

      Have a wonderful week ahead.

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  2. By the way, the picture in your header of the old barn at the end of the road on a hill...is that yours? It is beautiful! Blessings

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    1. Sadly not :( however I did grow up on a farm and enjoyed scenes like that.

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  3. I agree, Jo. Death should not be a secret/taboo. We should definitely be prepared. Not that anything can prepare you for the death and sorrow of losing a loved one (that deep feeling of missing someone is inexplicable)... but we can certainly be prepared for our own death by knowing God and knowing where we stand before Him. I think that prolonging life is a bad idea (think of Hezekiah!), and produces a lot of misery and sadness.

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    1. In the book Worth gives some very sad example of elderly people having their lives prolonged for months and months but their quality of life is 0% just because families want them alive. They were the really sad stories in this book. These were elderly for who had led active lives and happy lives and never wanted this sort of ending. I think, whilst we can't prepare for a love ones death, it is good to know what they want at the end of their life so the children don't fight over these decisions.

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  4. Hi Jo,
    You wrote this so eloquently. I love it. I hate when someone's choice to die with dignity is taken away from them. This sounds like a really great read. I nominated you for the Sunshine Blogger award. You can find out more about this on my blog. Thanks so much for sharing this.

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    1. Thanks Trish, you are very kind. I will pop over this evening .

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  5. Absolutely brilliant post Jo - you have done it so beautifully and wow, it is just incredibly well put together. You have said it all - we should all share this with as many as we can =) As a good way to start such discussions. In fact, I am off to share this post with a friend right away! =)
    love ya,
    Bets

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    1. Thanks Bets :))) It took me a number of weekends to do it, sort of playing around with it in my head. It hard topic to write about and even hard to talk about with some people.

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  6. Truly wonderful post, its a book that I will now try to get hold of and read. We have just had some quite difficult times talking to my parents who are in their 80s to establish what they want, but it will make it easier now that I know they don't want to go to hospital.

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    1. Thankyou so much for your kind words.

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  7. Wonderful words Jo! My grandfather didn't want any intervention... He had written up a form detailing this. When the hospital said that a surgery might give me a 20 percent chance at life (internal bleeding), at 86, with a complete and strong mind (and body since he never took any meds), he decided to go home (he was only in the hospital a few hours). He died within the week, in his own bed, with family around him. It was a strong and dignified death of a believer and it was beautiful. We have been brought up attending funerals in our community at a young age so it doesn't have the same scary feelings that many have. I really enjoyed this post and the Jennifer Worth book sounds very interesting. Thank you for taking the time to type this up...

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    1. It is a lovely book considering its topic and well worth reading. I am so glad your grandfather got his wish to die at home with his family around him. I love those stories when the person who dies with hymns playing quietly and family all around. It is a beautiful way to exit this world.

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    2. We were singing to him :)

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  8. It is difficult to think and talk about death, but somewhere in Proverbs (I think, I'm sorry I can't find it) it says it is better to go to a house of mourning (a funeral maybe) than one of feasting. I think it's because we do need to consider that we will one day die, and to make sure we live our lives well, because it could happen any time. Not easy, but worth contemplating. and I think most people would much prefer dying at home with loved ones than in a hospital hooked up to a lot of machines. Good post.

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    1. Once upon a time people accepted death just as they accepted the coming up of the sun and the going down of the sun. it was part of life. They also witness many more deaths that we will ever experience - many children died at a tender age, mothers died in child birth, many died as a result of illness or accident. Death was simply part of their every day life. We, in this modern age rarely ever see death at close hand and when we do (as children) we are hidden away from it. Death has become a taboo, which is interesting as every modern movie has at least one death, some have many.

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  9. I read your post a couple of days ago and have been thinking about it quite a bit. I have also read "In the midst of life" by Jennifer Worth.

    I disagree with the premise that we can die with dignity simply on the basis that the lives we live aren't lived with dignity. If we don't live with dignity how can we possibly die with dignity? Dignity is a highly westernised humanistic concept.

    Pregnancy and childbirth in western culture is often "not natural" because of all the interventions we demand. How many women would go through pregnancy without having one test done - hence lack of dignity begins at this point and follows us all through life. How many women would have natural childbirth without any interventions in our society? Think back to Jennifer Worth and the conditions the women in her books, and the TV series portrayed by the books, had to live in. This is why the death rate for both babies and women is low in our society today. We expect to live through childbirth, and we expect the baby also to live. We also expect to live through operations; not so a couple of generations ago.
    How many of us as we go through life would be happy to not have interventions after a car accident, or to be left lying on the ground after a fall, often in very public places? If our heart stopped beating in a public place how many of us object to having CPR or our clothes ripped off, including the under wire bra we all wear today, so the first aider can put electrodes on to jump start our heart? We are a hypocritical lot who want our cake and eat it too. Dignity on our terms.
    You say Jo that "She particularly focuses on the aged, those who have lived a long life and have reached the end and would have wanted a quiet and dignified conclusion. However, tragically, many families want their loved ones to live as long as possible and therefore request medical intervention - resuscitation/invasive medical procedures - which removes any dignity to the end of ones life."

    The medical profession often have their hands tied to intervene, even against their will, due to the legal implications of not doing something. Australians are following USA citizens and suing where ever and whoever they can, so health professionals often do more because of this fear. Relatives often want interventions done out of guilt. I agree with you (I know you are probably shocked by that statement) in that we need to talk about death more, and we do hide it away. Even when people are old, don't think that a relative is sitting next to them while they die. The last couple of deaths I saw the person died with only staff around. Old age is not dignified by any stretch of the imagination. People need help to eat, wash and poo. Where is the dignity in any of this?

    There are countless people in the world today who have no dignity. Look around at refugee camps, people living in war torn places, people being blown up in planes and pieces of their bodies viewed across our TV screens. This is but the tip of the iceberg.
    Finally look at our Lord - hanging naked on a cross dying because of my sin. An innocent man. I wouldn't call His death dignified He was the creator of the universe dying. If He didn't die in a "dignified manner" what right do I have to dignity?

    Sarah

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    1. When I say dignified death, I am referring to the importances of providing an environment of care, respect, kindness, understanding and most importantly, if the person dying says “no resuscitation” it is respected by the medical profession and family. Of course, we want loved one loves to live forever, but there reaches a point when we need to let them die - those from terrible car accidents, those suffering cancer and other diseases, age. No one says that it is perfect and many people do die in sad situations - but those who do have some control over their death - we need to respect it and show nothing but kindness.

      What Jennifer Worth points out in her book, in the past people were treated in a much more dignified manner, perhaps because death was far more common than it is today.

      I think other people have provided beautiful examples of dignified dying - dying at home surrounded by family and having the opportunity to say good bye. This too can happen in a hospital but it isn’t quite the same.

      Whilst Christ died on the cross a horrible death (for us), does not mean we need to treat our loved one in the same fashion. No where in the Bible does it say we treat a dying person disrespectful and in a undignified manner - this isn’t about me, this is about how I would treat another person. In fact there are many examples in the bible about showing care, love, patiences, understand to others and that starts at birth and goes all the way through to death.

      Yes, I know many people around the world die in horrible situations with no dignity - but does that mean my mother should, or father, my friend? No, it doesn’t. Just because a homeless man dies alone, does not mean we all have to die alone.

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