Death is the only certainty of life, yet we avoid talking about it at all costs. A decision which, conscious or otherwise, leads to additional suffering for all parties when the time comes.
One major cause of our squeamishness and avoidance of death as a topic is its institutionalisation. Before the 20th century, it was commonplace for people to die in their homes with their families as witnesses. There would have been scarcely an adult who had not seen their parents, some of their children, and their friends die. Improvements in science and medical care mean that many injuries and illnesses are no longer considered life-threatening, and people live longer in general. Nowadays, death is often held at bay and life prolonged at all costs: the body plugged into machines, pumped full of oxygen and blood and drugs, the heart restarted and kept going, no matter the pain, no matter the hopelessness of the endeavour, no matter that at a certain point this isn’t living, just a slowed-down, drawn-out, perhaps painful and undignified dying. Despite its inevitability, death is now viewed as a medical failing rather than a fact of life. As Dr Kathryn Mannix said “in a single generation, people forgot what dying looked like”. It has become easier to live longer, but harder to die well. Nearly two thirds (63%) of us would prefer to die at home, yet of the 500,000 people who die each year in England, 53% die in hospital. Most want to be with family; often they are alone or with strangers.
So what can we do?
Palliative and hospice care focus on controlling deathbed pain and ensure the dying are a higher priority than they were twenty years ago. Palliative care doctors and nurses spend their days with the terminally ill and their families, witnessing and supporting them at times of intense suffering, terror and loss to help them deal with life’s final event – death.
Talking about death doesn't bring death closer. It's about planning for life. Without communication and understanding, death and terminal illness can be a lonely and stressful experience, both for the person who is dying and for their friends and family.
At the Ambulance Wish Foundation we grant end of life wishes which enable our service users, who without specialist support would be house- or bed-bound, to experience something which brings them joy one last time. We provide the means to make their wish, however simple or complex, a reality. The fact that death is coming doesn’t mean that person is a lost cause and should be shut away in preparation. Our belief is that granting wishes shifts the focus from the condition to the person and their loved ones, allowing them to enjoy their time together and make lasting memories.
Donate to support our cause and help us grant end of life wishes at localgiving.org/charity/ambulance-wish-foundation/