In the second piece in our series of blogs looking at how we talk about the words ‘death’, ‘died’ and ‘dying’ Trinity Healthcare Assistant Ana says quiet reflection prompted by her work in end-of-life care has changed her thinking around the word death.

The unspoken topic

I was always very scared of death, that's how I grew up.

I would not talk about death as even saying the words would attract death into my precious life, I love being alive! We don't talk about death because there's fear around not knowing the process of dying. 

The thought we might die before we’ve had a chance to live, can generate an even greater amount of fear, stress, and even feelings of failure, so we avoid talking about death.

Many of us live avoiding death until it knocks on our door, sometimes very suddenly and unexpectedly!

When I was thinking around the ‘D’ word I thought about how it could have been in the past, learning from those before us. Perhaps we can learn more now by looking back at how our ancestors experienced death in the past.

Learning from those before us 

Ancient cultures tended to live with a much closer association to nature. Within this came the cyclical nature of life, and thus seeing and accepting the naturally, inevitable stages of birth, life and death. 

Death as a human experience was a natural part of this cycle. Customs, rituals and ceremonies associated with helping members of the family or communities’ transition from life to death, were passed on through generations. 

In modern western cultures, this connection with the cycle of life has been a bit lost. Perhaps some of the rituals and teachings around the transition to death are practised only within some cultures.

When we start to have conversations using the word ‘death’ they can help us as individuals understand how we feel about approaching our own death and find the language to let others know what we want when the time comes.

By already having these conversations ourselves it can also help us more openly discuss death with someone who is dying and understand what they need to ensure their own peaceful and personally empowered experience of dying.

Making the conversation part of life now

We know we will die one day. So right now, we can make a commitment to authentically choose the life we want to live. We can freely search for meaning in our life, challenge values that don’t align with us and we can use feared experiences as a chance for growth.

People who are dying can meaningfully explore and take ownership of the lives they created, the choices they made and this also includes choices to the end, in preparing for death.

For me, the six months of my time working at the hospice and being in contact with dying people, has created a great shift within me. Where once I was scared of death, being here has taught me a lot.

Previously I worked as a birth doula. The ‘role’ is about being there ready for the precious arrival of new life. Strangely it was through a recent experience of caring for a patient on our ward at the end of their life that I saw the similarity in both pivotal moments.

The needs of the woman waiting to bring life to this world and the patient on the cusp of leaving it, I saw in both moments they needed my presence there – to offer safety, kindness and someone there for them.

I feel blessed and honoured to connect with our patients and sit with them when they are dying. It is through my experiences at Trinity I have reflected more on my own death. Now I have an idea of what I want for while I am dying but mainly, how I want to live!