“Reading these stories made me realize how many deaths I’ve experienced and hadn’t processed a single one. The family rule was that it wasn’t okay to talk about death and I avoided questions about my father’s death because of the shame I felt over his suicide. The courage that these people showed in telling their stories, and the importance of talking about and preparing for one’s own death has given me the courage I needed to do the same.” Vicki.
What’s in the book? This is a book of interviews with people who have lost a loved one, and professionals who work with individuals and families prior to, during, and after a death. The stories include death from cancer, heart disease, heart attack, stroke, accident, suicide, murder, and unknown causes.
Obituaries may or may not provide information about the person but often do not give the cause of death, and never reveal what the final days and hours were like, interactions with the medical professionals and with each other, if religious beliefs played a role in the death by making it easier or harder, how a person’s life changed after the death of a loved one, and so many other things that Dr. Weymouth was curious about but would never appear in the words of the obituary.
How will it help me? Knowing what it is like to experience the death of a loved one helps us when it is our turn. Every person, every family, and every circumstance is different, but there are some common themes that emerged from the 35 interviews.
• Having the loved one make the preparations for his or her death was a great gift to the survivors. As one young woman said after her father committed suicide, everything was left up to the family to handle at their most vulnerable times. Others expressed gratitude knowing that they were fulfilling the wishes of their loved one when they had been explicitly stated and did not have to endlessly question whether or not they had done the right thing.
• The professionals who work with the dying and their families all said that having unfinished business is a big factor in a difficult death. The unfinished business was typically about a relationship where healing and reconciliation had not taken place, so doing what one can prior to a terminal illness is important to experiencing a more peaceful death.
• The people who spoke about the role of the church in ministering to the terminally ill member were disappointed and angry that there were not more visits and support for the patient and the family.
• People do have an opinion on what constitutes a good or easy death as compared to a bad or difficult death. Being pain free and having loved ones there were two of the things that people spoke of as factors for a good death, whereas the opposites, being in pain and being alone were seen as factors in a bad or difficult death. The professionals, however, noted how common it is for a person to die when everybody is out of the room.
Dr. Weymouth approached this book as a research study and the documents used, including the questionnaires for individuals and for professionals, as well as the charts summarizing interviewees’ responses about aspects of a good death and a bad death, are included at the end of the book. With proper attribution, Dr. Weymouth gives permission for other researchers, including students, to use this material.
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