As a pastor, I’ve had the privilege of walking with many people in their last few days on earth. I’m also one of those rare creatures who comes from a family where we talk about death. My father was a counselor for many years and grief therapy was one of his specialties. My mother is from a very large family, and there have been many funerals to attend. So I’m probably about as comfortable with the topic of death as any human is going to get here on earth.
But I’m weird. Many people have never walked through the dying process with someone, so they don’t know what to expect, and find themselves in strange and uncomfortable territory when it happens. Since most people are not comfortable talking about dying, no one ever tells you about it. So when you find yourself in the middle of being with someone in their last days, you just have to muddle through and figure it out as you go.
This article from Yes! Magazine written by a palliative care nurse (someone who cares for patients when treatments have stopped and the emphasis is on keeping the person comfortable) does an excellent job of explaining what to expect and consider in the last days of life–for ourselves and those we love.
For those who are in the middle of the process or expect to be soon, I highly recommend May I Walk You Home written by Joyce Rupp and Joyce Hutichinson. It is a collection of stories and prayers to help you navigate the journey of walking with someone who is dying.
Even if you and everyone you love are in excellent health, I encourage you to read the article and to begin to talk to those you love about what a good death means for you and what it means to them–knowing that they may not look at all the same. It is a strange but true thing that being able to talk about death really does make life better.
Rev. Anne Russ is an ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA). She and her mother, Nancy, are the co-authors of Was the Funeral Fun and What’s More Fun than a Funeral?