Lessons We Can Learn from Death

By Denise Scruggs, Director, Beard Center on Aging and Jen Horsey, Assistant, Beard Center on Aging

Ben Franklin once said, “Nothing is certain except death and taxes.” Neither are things we look forward to, but they are an inevitable part of life.

Death will impact us throughout our lives. We will lose family members, coworkers, friends and acquaintances. Some losses will be easier to bear than others. Some will be expected while others will be a surprise. Many will leave a void in our lives that will be hard to fill.

I recently lost my mom after she became terminally ill and passed away at home under hospice care. It seems like only yesterday that I talked with her and held her hand. I already miss her and know that these feelings will not go away for a long time, if ever.
While with my mom, I had many opportunities to ponder life and death. Here are a just a few things that I was reminded of during this time:
 Having faith is important, especially at the end of life. Believing in “God” or a higher power brings comfort. It reminds us that life is everlasting and suggests that we will reconnect with our loved ones in death. As a person goes through the final stages of death, he or she often “talks with” loved ones who are already deceased. I saw this with both my mom and my father-in- law. While my mom’s health continued to decline after her conversation with late family members , my father-in-law miraculously recovered from a near death experience when his late twin brother would not “open a door” for him.
 Sometimes we forget how important our family and friends are to us. We often go through life assuming that the people we care about will always be there. In reality, they may not be. Death and terminal illness can come at anytime and without warning. It can leave us with unfinished business and regret for the things we never had time to say or do with our loved ones. To prevent this from happening, stay connected. Spend time with those you care about the most. Be free with your “I love you’s and your hugs. Most importantly, take time to create new memories that will last forever. You will be glad that you did.
 Saying “good-by” is difficult to do. Whether someone dies suddenly or after a long illness, it’s still a surprise. It is still hard to let them go. We are never prepared. Even if we know that death will end their pain and suffering, it’s hard to accept.
 Our loved ones are always with us, both in life and in death. Although, not with us physically, our loved ones will remain alive in our thoughts and memories. Photographs, videos, and personal possessions left behind, as well as time spent reminiscing about our loved one will keep them close to us.
 Life goes on around us while we face death or a terminal illness. It is surreal to go to work, to church, and to the grocery store while we are grieving. Although we are feeling sad, anxious or stressed, life is going on normally for most of those around us. It is during these times that we may begin to feel isolated or alone. We may question our faith. Despite this, we need to reach out to others for help and support, while sharing our thoughts and feelings.
 We are never alone during a terminal illness or death. Although we may feel isolated in our grief, there are many people available to help us. They’re waiting to help, but don’t know how. We need to let these friends, family members, church members, and colleagues know what we need while being open to their assistance. We also need to accept help from professionals who provide hospice, home health, support groups, and other assistance.
 We need to take care of ourselves as we face the loss of a loved one. Although we may feel guilty doing something good for ourselves while a loved one is struggling to stay alive, it is still important to do it. We need a break from the stress and responsibility. We need a good night’s sleep and a balanced diet. If we don’t take care of ourselves, we will not be there for our loved ones when they need us the most.
 It is important to make end-of-life decisions ahead of time. It takes the pressure off family while ensuring that decisions are carried out the way we want them to be. It also removes the potential guilt our loved ones may experience in the event they have to make a decision to take us off life support. So share your preferences with your children and spouse, and seek to understand theirs.

Finally, remember that we are never guaranteed tomorrow. We should live each day as if it is our last. By doing this we will be better equipped to cope with death and dying- whether it is our own or that of a loved one.

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    is very difficult to deliver. I am grateful, Flossie

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