Being Prepared: The Key to Successful Death

Paradoxically, death is the only prerequisite for life. Therefore, in order to be alive death must occur. Otherwise it is not life but instead immortality. If this is true, then why is death so poorly managed in our American society?

Death is treated as unwanted and unexpected by most Americans. It is as if it isn’t suppose to occur because it is not discussed and the subject is avoided. Out-of-mind means that death will not occur. This childish and naive thinking is part of American’s immaturity. It is time we grow up and acknowledge ‘the elephant in the room.’

Baby boomers have seen their parents pain, suffering and poor quality of end-of-life and many have vowed not to let that happen to them. Yet, they remain legally, psychologically and socially unprepared. This preparation is key to experiencing a successful death.

Legal preparation for death includes Advance Directors which can be codified as Living Wills, Directives to Physicians, Durable Power of Attorney and outpatient withholding or withdrawing life support interventions. Regular Wills and estate planning are also necessary. Even many of those who have these legal preparations are still not prepared for death because they have ignored the psychological and social aspects of preparation.

Psychological preparation for death requires that one live in the moment instead of dreading the future. One must accept ones lot in life and do their best in each moment. No one can ask for anything else. This also means that all primary feelings (emotions) are legitimate and that meta-feelings (i.e., feeling about feeling such as shame, remorse, embarrassment) need to worked out. As noted, ‘rule with your hear and live with your conscience’ means being true to one primary feeling. Yet, while legit to feel one feeling, what one does about them is what makes us human and prepares us for death. While feelings are legit, all actions are not. We are responsible for our own happiness but not at the expense of others happiness.

Social preparation for death means recognizing the others who are also suffering in the death of a loved one. All attention is paid to the dying person to the exclusion of those who will remain after the death. Their suffering and needs go unaddressed. These needs include ‘the talk’. The talk is the intimate soul to soul communication of the love, pleasures and sorrows of their interrelationship and a formal letting go or good-bye. It includes accepting that the relationship will die with the death and that those remaining will have to grieve and continue on. What ‘needs to be said’ should be said in this conversation; so that there are no regrets or remorse about something left unsaid. Funerals are too late to express ones feelings to a dead person.

If I can say to myself, “If I die today, I would have no regrets”, then we are as prepared as possible for death. But if we cannot say that, then we should ask ourselves, “What will I regret?” and then do whatever necessary to remediate these issues. Tragically, some will remain unremediable. Being at peace means not having remorse or regrets about ones death.

A successful death, as much as that is possible, requires legal, psychological and social preparation. Since regardless of preparation, death will come it makes sense to prepare.

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