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  • janetgoncalves

Is your loved one having difficulty in processing their own death?

I recently watched the movie The Seventh Seal. In it the main character, Crusader Antonius Block, is on a beach and approached by the personification of Death. They exchange words. Death then asks Block, “Are you prepared?” Block responds, “My body is afraid, but I am not.” Death approaches closer. Block says, “Wait a moment.”

If your loved one fluctuates between acceptance and denial of death, it is a normal reaction. Make space for these feelings and be careful not to make any assumptions. The fear of death is real and isn't an easy thing to come to terms with. If your loved one is afraid to die and has shared this with you, there's no need to try and fix it. All you must do is listen. Listen with no judgment so your loved one feels safe talking with you. Talking with you about it may even lessen your loved one’s anxiety. It’s a big transition and it's important to make space for this. Respect these feelings and let your loved one know you’re there.

Death does not need to be the off-limits subject that it is in our society. By asking ourselves how we feel about death, we can all enjoy open and honest discussions about end-of-life planning and wishes. Having these conversations when your loved one is on their deathbed may not feel like the most ideal, but it must start somewhere. Ask about their last wishes. Help your loved one reach out to friends and family so that they can say goodbye. If possible, and if they wish, consider having a living wake. Confirm their choices for the funeral arrangements (cremation, burial, green burial, etc.)

In other conversations, ask about what they think lies ahead and about the end of life. Explore their thoughts about dying and check in on their fears. If they are afraid, the best thing you can do is show your unwavering support. Let your loved one know that they are not alone. You can create a schedule so that someone is always with your loved one if they are afraid to die alone. Death doulas, like me, offer vigilling services.

In conclusion I leave you with this quote from the foreword of the book “Finding Peace at the End of life” by Henry Fersko-Weiss, “We don’t get to practice dying. There are opportunities along the way when we might imagine the experience: an illness or surgery, a near miss in traffic. The time will come when these are not imagined moments any longer- when we will face the loss of a loved one or our own end of life. Each happens only once; we are always beginners. How then, do we hold this well?”

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