Facing the end of life
Dying is a part of life and it can have value and meaning.
Professionals who work with dying people talk about the idea of a “good death.” It means different things to different people. Many people think a good death has no suffering or fear.
But a good death can mean more than physical comfort. It can mean choosing where you want to die – at home, in a hospital or in a hospice – when possible. You may want your physical surroundings to look, sound and smell a certain way (for example, with music, pictures or flowers) and want certain spiritual rituals or practices to take place.
Often, a good death means keeping your sense of self. It’s sometimes called “dying with dignity.” Keeping a sense of dignity near the end of life reduces anxiety and suffering and increases a sense of peace and meaning. It’s a time where you may get to know yourself better than you have during any other part of your life.
Facing your death can bring up emotions like sadness and grief. Part of coming to terms with death is grieving that your life journey is coming to an end. Some people feel very anxious and fearful about death, because we don’t know what it feels like or what will happen.
Your healthcare team can give you information about the process of dying, the moment of death and how this might feel for you.
Talking about death
For most people, talking about death is very hard. You might worry that it will hurt friends and family or make them upset. You may fear that talking about it will make it come faster – even though it won’t. You might find that the subject, once raised, is rejected with words like “everything will be fine” or “it will all work out.” How your family has handled death in the past and differences in traditions or customs can also affect how you speak about it.
But what is clear is that we all die, some day. Not talking about it does not change this fact. However, talking about death with your family and healthcare team can help take away some of the fear or anxiety that you and your loved ones may have.
Great progress has been made
Some cancers, such as thyroid and testicular, have survival rates of over 90%. Other cancers, such as pancreatic, brain and esophageal, continue to have very low survival rates.