Over time, many believes have been adopted about the dying process. While some are true, several are just myths, developed as people across the centuries have tried to understand something all of us go through, yet few truly understand. These misconceptions can interfere with receiving the best care possible at end of life. Debunking these myths can help each of us better support the dying person and their families.
Don’t talk about it! “She doesn’t know how sick she is and she’ll give up.” “It’s too scary to talk about!”
Death is a natural part of life, just as natural as birth, as breathing. We all do these; we have no choice. What makes dying and death so frightening and so hard to talk about is that we’ve made it a taboo subject. In fact, here in the United States we do such a good job at hiding death that we’ve earned the title: “A death denying society.” Everything that lives, dies. Dying and death can be a positive experience for people. I call it “Living Your Dying.” In other words, a terminal diagnosis, or a life-shortening accident doesn’t mean you’re already dead. Talk about it! Open the doors to deeper and more meaningful conversation; to discovering anew what is really important.
People die the same way they lived.
This is generally true. The person who had a positive perspective throughout life, is likely to find the positive in the midst of sadness and grief. The person who talked with lots of 4-letter words isn’t going to suddenly put them on the shelf. Yet, it is also possible for people to change. With excellent care, in a peaceful and comforting setting, there can be great opportunity for reminiscing, for forgiving and being forgiven, for spiritual growth and emotional healing.
Dying is always painful and pain medicine is used to kill the dying.
This is one of the more common myths about dying. While pain can be a symptom of many terminal illnesses, there is much that can be done to relieve pain safely and without the danger of addiction or hastening death. Hospice caregivers and palliative care doctors are familiar with the proper use of drugs like morphine. When the right dose is given at the right time, pain can be eased while keeping the dying person from being fully sedated. When pain is relieved, the dying person can be comfortable until the moment of death. Good pain management does not shorten life. Instead, those whose pain is managed well tend to live longer than expected. The reality is that even those at the end of life who are not on pain medication also sleep most of the time.
Death is to be feared.
Whether there is medical intervention, death is going to happen. Before the 20th century death was a family, community, religious event. People died at home surrounded by family and friends. The body was often cleaned and dressed by family members and a wake (or calling hours, or visitation) was also done at home. In today’s time, most people die in the hospital or a long-term care facility. Even many people on hospice go to a hospice house. As dying away from home became common, people were separated from this chapter of life. Very few people have seen and experienced dying and death and so it has become unfamiliar; and what we don’t know we often fear.