It doesn’t matter your cultural or religious background–it doesn’t matter if you’re wealthy or just barely getting by, there are three concerns at the end of life most people share.
They’re heard by chaplains, hospice workers and volunteers, and by family members who gather around those they love and try to make the last weeks, days, and hours of a person’s life as comfortable and as meaningful as possible.
Here are the three biggest concerns at the end of life:
- I don’t want to be a burden
- I don’t want to be in pain
- I don’t want to lose control over what’s done to me
I don’t want to be a burden.
As a speaker/facilitator in the field of caregiving, I hear this concern all the time–and it starts long before the end of life.
In fact, I heard it from my 25 year-old daughter. She said she’d rather go into a care facility when she’s older because she doesn’t want to be a burden. It’s a sad reflection on society to think that growing older or needing help to get around is equated with being a burden. (I didn’t teach her this, by the way )
There’s a lot not being said here:
I don’t want to be dependent. I don’t want to be vulnerable. I don’t like others telling me what to do. I don’t want to be in the way. I don’t want people to resent caring for me. I’ve dealt with the elderly and infirmed and I don’t want someone to have to do, to sacrifice what I did. I’m scared. I
But what if you’re not a burden?
What if caring for you is viewed as a privilege?
What if you plan enough ahead of time and arrange for the added/needed help so that family members do less physical work and can simply “be” with you–enjoy your company?
What if you do all that you can do now–health wise–to be strong and mobile and live longer in good health? (there are no guarantees on that one).
What if you have something valuable to offer–even in your last years and months?
What if even your dying is considered sacred and something to treasure? (even if it is hard)
What if, by allowing us to witness your end of life, we learn how to handle our own?
Who else will teach us?
I don’t want to be in pain.
No one does. Certain diseases cause more pain than others.
I can’t promise you that you won’t be in pain.
I can’t promise you that the end will come quick or be sweet–or even meaningful in the sense that sometimes we romanticize certain events and imagine them in a glowing, fuzzy cinematic light with all of our loved ones gathered and all getting along and tears and smiles and kisses and we can be coherent and see them all and hold this wonderful moment for all eternity…and it isn’t always like that.
I can tell you that hospice in particular will do everything they can to keep you pain free.
Palliative care is better than ever–there are all over salves that numb you, take away the aches, meds to reduce fever and chills–but many of these medicines will gork you out. You may sleep a lot. You may not be fully aware of time or of your loved ones coming and going. You might be pain free, but there might be a trade off.
All I can say is that by knowing this now, you can come to some level of acceptance. That’s all I can offer you–or me. I can’t say how I’m going to go–whether it will be many years from now or any day.
I can’t say whether the end of my life will be peaceful or tragic. I just have to trust–and do all I can to attract peace.
But I do know that whatever I believe about the hereafter, eternity, heaven…it will be that I will not be in pain. I will be in peace. I will not carry the pains, hurts, and sorrows of this world onto the next. And that brings me comfort.
I don’t want to lose control over what’s done to me.
Isn’t it amazing that one of the last questions/concerns we have before we leave this earth is about trust?
This teaches me one thing–I better get to dealing with my trust issues now.
Trust is the underlying factor that determines the success of any relationship–marriage, friendships, communities–it all boils down to, “Can I trust you?”
The answer isn’t “Yes, I can,” or “No, I can’t.”
Trust isn’t about finding people who won’t ever let you down.
Trust is knowing they will–in some way or another–and being okay with that.
Loving them any way. Trusting any way.
Choosing and then living in trust. Not trust in others. Perhaps it’s trust in yourself.
Trust that you’ll be okay. Trust that you don’t always have to be in control.
It’s also about trust in something bigger than you–in God, faith, the universe, the good–whatever you choose to call it. Trusting that goodness will come your way. Trusting that the universe is out to help you.
In the end, we all know that death will come. Perhaps there will be pain. Perhaps I won’t be able to say when it will happen, where I’ll be, who will be around me, what care I will or won’t get. And that somehow I can still believe that it will be all be okay.
But there is one more lesson here…
There is a lot you can say about the end of your life–but you better say it now. Talk to your loved ones. Write your ethical will. Fill out that living will. Say what it is you want. Appoint that guardian or family member to speak for you when or if you can’t.
Say all the I love you’s now. Go on those dream trips. Make memories. Laugh, cry, make love, sing, dance.
You want to not be a burden?
Start now. Invest in your relationships. Call your loved ones and listen to their day to day problems. Spoil them with your time. Go for walks and hold hands. Tell them how very proud you are of them, of the kind, good people they’ve become–then they won’t think you’re a burden.
You want not to be in pain?
Don’t dwell on pain now–physical or emotional. Live “pain-free” by practicing forgiveness, letting go and laying old issues down. Pain thrives off tenseness, tightness, and focus. Pain therapists use many techniques to help their clients manage pain–laughter therapy, engaging the mind on something bigger, more interesting, acupuncture, yoga…by letting go of pain today, we don’t attract it tomorrow.
You want to not be hung up on control?
Start trusting today. Take a risk. Fail. Laugh it off and try again. When you feel like a knotted fist inside your gut, recognize it and choose to trust. Give someone a chance. Give them a second chance. Give yourself a chance. The person we least trust is ourselves. We mistrust our own goodness. We are our own worst critiques, our own biggest doubters. Start with small affirmations–say them out loud in the car or in front of the mirror:
“I trust my own good heart.”
The biggest concerns of life are no surprise–they’re our biggest concerns every day–when you come to think about it. Every day, we’re given a chance to face our fears–to see our own good–and the goodness around us.
If you’re a caregiver, and you’re with a loved one who is coming toward the end, reassure them–let them know repeatedly that they are loved, that you will do all they can to make sure they’re not in pain, that you will honor their wishes, you will be there–steadfast. They will not be alone. Each time you say this to someone else, you say it to yourself.
I know as a caregiver this time is scary.
You don’t know how. Perhaps this is the first time you’ve faced death in an intimate way–with a family member this close. I was just like you–my dad died in hospital–and I was facing the death of my mother in my own home. I worried if I’d be okay–if I could handle it–emotionally.
IYou will find your strength and resolve.
You will keep your loved one safe–and honor their life and their death.
You will give them the dignity they deserve.
Even though you may feel like running, you will be brave. You will be there for your loved one–and it will change how you perceive life–and death.