COMMENT: A dying wish like no other
HONOURING someone's dying wish is probably the most powerful directive you can receive, many going to great lengths to see it realised. Except if that wish is to die.
Then it becomes an awkward, scary, upsetting request, its blurry boundaries causing a confusing mess of emotional and legal issues. It's not exactly what you nor the dying person need at this point in in time.
So who are we to say how a person facing death should leave this place? Some people are burdened with a horrendously slow and painful demise on their way to meet their maker or those worms in the ground.
Like the lives we lead, the deaths that follow can be just as diverse or complicated.
It's a morbid topic but ignoring it can't be helpful in the long run. Accidents, disease, suicide, murder, are all pathways out of here, as varied as they are unpleasant and furthest from our thoughts.
But it is wishful thinking anticipating a pain-free ride out of here. Something like dying in your sleep is a rare event.
My grandmother managed to do it while on holiday but at a young 63. I hid at the back of our shed while I grieved like an eight-year-old who was never to see the person they thought the world of again.
Alternatively, my grandfather went out with a bang at bowls from a massive heart attack. Devastated by the news, his was the first dead body I saw and touched. A peck on a cold, mottled blue cheek was our last goodbye.
My other grandparents weren't so lucky. They lived a lot longer but cancer and degenerative conditions saw their dying occur over extended periods, assisted by medical means and as protocols allow.
They suffered like the rite of passage to old age seems to imply, drugs and visitors doing their best to see them off in some sort of dignified, humane fashion.
While I didn't see any of my grandparents take their last breaths, I did see the prelude in what is known as Cheyne-Stokes respiration or the death rattle as it's sometimes called. This can go on for hours. It's not pleasant to watch, loved one or not, but it's one of the processes of dying.
This has been my experience with human death thus far. Obviously there's more to come until the day it's my turn to go, but in the grand scheme of things, I've gotten off lightly.
For many others death means unimaginable suffering in the lead up, depending on what eventually kills them. But you barely hear about those horror stories unless you are faced with it personally, which is part of the problem.
We like to think that every death is a nice, quick, clean one that comes after a life well-lived and that there's some secret system in place where no-one suffers.
But the reality is people are forced to endure pain and suffering because every life is sacred and choices are limited. A one-size-fits-all journey at its best entails massive doses of painkillers and palliative care while nature takes it course.
While this might sound as good as it gets to the living, unless you are in the shoes or the hospital bed of that person doing the dying you don't really know what's best for them; only what's best for you.
While it's confronting, talking openly about different scenarios leading to death and how we would like to approach it if given a choice is an important conversation. And why not start young? It doesn't mean daily diatribe, maybe an annual chat when the subject of wills come up.
Anything that helps to bring the subject into the mainstream vernacular is a good thing.
Introducing new ways to alleviate and eliminate physical and emotional pain through caring and humane practices is just another way forward in a complicated journey.
Dying is diverse. The choices available should reflect this.
lf this topic has raised any concerns phone Lifeline 13 11 14.