This article appeared on Longevity Live on July 22nd 2020.
A Beautiful Death: Why End Of Life Planning Matters
When we think of longevity and living well, we tend to do so with a sense of death aversion. The goal of taking care of our bodies is to live not only for as long as possible but as well as possible. In the end, though, death awaits us all.
For many professionals working in the fields of hospice and palliative care, normalizing end of life planning and removing the stigma toward death is a constant challenge. The first step in this lofty goal is to start a conversation.
Here’s why end of planning matters when we strive toward longevity and wellness, and the meaning behind the term “a beautiful death.”
Death as a Taboo Topic
Death is the eternal question mark of life. While there are varying beliefs and thoughts about what’s next, many people view death as the great unknown. As with anything that humans don’t know or understand, it creates fear and avoidance.
The downside of this reaction is that it creates a stigma surrounding discussions about death. We’re left unable to find the right words to support a new widow. We fear the idea of facing our own mortality. This avoidance mechanism creates a ripple effect that impacts everything from family finances to mental health.
According to the experts at Peace Hospice & Palliative Care of Chicago, planning ahead is vital when time is of the essence. If we’re too afraid to talk about the end of life care with our loved ones, how can we combat those timelines?
If you’re ever in doubt about the stigma surrounding death, consider the phrases, “passed away” and “lost someone.” We use these terms to avoid the D-word and soften the blow. But if we can’t even say the word, how can we ever hope to facilitate a conversation about the great equalizer?
Cultural Death Acceptance
Interestingly enough, some cultures are open about death discussions and have successfully embraced it as a part of life’s journey. In the early 2000s, Death Cafes started to pop up around the world. These meetings were created to start an open dialogue about life and death. These gatherings provide a platform to discuss fears about death, but also create new perspectives on the years we’re given.
Mexico’s Dia de Los Muertos (AKA Day of the Dead) is a world-renowned celebration where citizens pay tribute to their ancestors and celebrate their accomplishments. The Caviteño people are the original purveyors of an eco-friendly funeral and bury their dead in a tree stump that the ailing person chooses well in advance. New Orleans is known for its African-based traditions, playing lively jazz during the funeral procession.
While many of the Eastern cultures seem to have a more positive way of approaching death, Western culture is making strides. The Death Positive movement is gaining steam and empowering people to make end of life planning and discussions the norm. It’s created new initiatives, like the Coffin Club in New Zealand, where family members are welcome to build custom coffins for their dying loved ones with help from carpenters.
Death Doulas have also become increasingly popular. These trained volunteers are there to act as a non-medical support person in hospices and at-home deaths. Their role is to craft a death plan, covering everything from music to the room’s atmosphere. The idea stems from Birth Doulas, who help someone transition into the world while Death Doulas help them transition out.
While cultural death acceptance is becoming more widely recognized in the Western hemisphere, there’s still a way to go.
Death As An Aspect Of Longevity
It may seem as though the pursuit of longevity is a form of death avoidance. We try to move more to avoid heart disease and we try to eat foods that will help us prevent cancer. We use mindfulness to combat stress and slow down the clock on aging.
So how does end of life planning fit into longevity?
The actions we take within our own life will have a trickle-down effect on those who care about us. Inaction will ultimately impact the longevity of your children and loved ones as they struggle to navigate a difficult time.
It’s also worth noting that, despite our best efforts, accidents happen. We are also living in an unprecedented global health crisis in the form of Covid-19, which has claimed the lives of many seemingly healthy individuals. Age-appropriate end of life planning can shift the focus from a tragic loss to a celebration of a life well-lived.
Facing your mortality is a mindfulness practice that will boost your self-awareness and explore things like spirituality and self-advocacy. If your diet, exercise, and health routines are puzzle pieces of wellness and longevity, then end of life planning is the final piece that creates the bigger picture.
Why End Of Life Planning Matters
If you’re still struggling with the idea of why you should face this uncomfortable subject, consider these key reasons why end of life planning matters.
Advocate For Your Life
End of life planning gives you a chance to advocate for what you want. Everyone has an idea of how they hope to punctuate their life when it comes to an end. Many people envision themselves surrounded by loved ones at home. Some people gain comfort from having spiritual practices incorporated into their death experience.
Whatever your feelings on the subject may be, they matter. Advocate for yourself by having these discussions early on.
Take Care Of Your Family
End of life planning plays a functional role in death. Many people are of the mindset that once it’s over, it’s over. However, that’s not the case for those we leave behind.
Taking time to put everything in place and convey your wants takes the burden off your family during a challenging time. It prevents disagreements and confusion that can worsen the grieving process. It also ensures the financial details are taken care of to remove that burden from your loved ones.
Planning ahead also helps your family members avoid caregiver burnout. As it can take time and money to get private assistance or find a spot in a quality hospice facility, the burden of your care may fall to a family member. Being a caregiver can take a strong emotional, physical, and financial toll. By having plans in place, you protect your loved ones from those added challenges.
Normalise The Grief Narrative
There are a lot of preconceived notions about grief. People often say the wrong thing or lack compassion over time. In the weeks following a loss, support tends to trickle away. As time passes, people move forward with their grief; they don’t get over it.
How we should deal with grief is murky because that narrative has fallen under the stigma surrounding death conversations. By being open about the end of life planning and having these discussions early on, you support the grief narrative and empower people to share their experiences.
Get Paperwork In Place
They say there are two certainties in life: death and taxes. What they don’t tell you is that both are comparable in terms of paperwork and bureaucracy. And yes, someone will have to file your taxes the year after you die.
Stating end of life planning before you’re concerned about the end of your life helps ensure you have the right paperwork in place. A will ensure that your estate doesn’t get held up for months. Identifying proxies and executors removes any surprises for your family when the time comes. A list of your debts and easy access to your financial information helps ensure someone doesn’t repossess your truck two months after you die because you missed a payment.
Your wants and needs may change over the years. Hopefully, you’ll have to change your will three or four times because you live so long. It’s better to have the initial paperwork in place and amend it as needed.
Consider creating an advanced care plan outlining:
- A will outlining who will receive your assets, as well as the designated executor.
- A living will, outlining the Power of Attorney and advanced directives about your care (i.e., signing a DNR or what steps to take if you are in a vegetative state).
- Your personal care wishes (hospice, private care, etc.).
- Your funeral and spiritual care wishes.
- Life insurance policies and information for those under 65.
- A list of social media accounts, emails, and passwords.
Place this plan in an easy-to-access area and inform your next of kin and family doctor where they’ll find this information. While there are many advanced care plan templates and guidelines available online, it’s worth looking for one from your specific region as the legalities change from state to state.
Ease The Financial Burden
The average funeral costs more than £7,000, not including things like a cemetery plot or marker. While many life insurance policies are put in place to cover funeral expenses, they aren’t always readily accessible. Even with a solid life insurance policy, it can take months for that money to be released, leaving loved ones in the lurch for any outstanding funeral or medical expenses.
Planning ahead allows you to outline some of the costs associated with your ideal end of life situation. As you age, you might also decide to start paying for those things out of pocket in advance or create a savings fund. While it might seem morose or strange to save up for your own funeral, it’s no different than saving for retirement — it just hasn’t been marketed in that way.
What Is A Beautiful Death?
Life is a beautiful thing. Being able to live for a long time and accomplish all you had hoped is a privilege worth celebrating. It might seem like the idea of a beautiful death is impossible, but it’s not.
A beautiful death is an ending that leaves room for celebrating a life well-lived. To have a beautiful death, you get the experience you want. You get to move on, knowing that you haven’t left a financial mess for your family. In other words, you get to find peace.
Having a beautiful death ties into living a beautiful life. Rather than waiting for the end, consider what things you would do if you knew you were going to die tomorrow. Think of relationships that could use mending and how you can create positive memories for those who have helped you along the way.
Consider what actions you need to take to be at peace with yourself so that when the time comes — hopefully in the distant future — you can move on without regrets.
Death has always been something scary, and perhaps it always will be. However, by removing the taboo surrounding death and making it a conscious part of our daily life, we can overcome that fear and live beautifully.
Article by Longevity Live