Dying well focuses on your last days

This personal concept can include quality time and practical discussions

Death is inevitable. For some, it’s sudden and there’s no preparing for it. But for others with a terminal illness, there’s time to come to terms with it either at home or in a hospice or palliative care unit in a hospital.

“The term ‘dying well’ is personal for everyone,” says Bonnie Ross, community programs manager at Pilgrims Hospice Society. “It means to live fully up until death occurs, to be spiritually and mentally at peace.”

It also means pain and symptoms are managed. 

Ross gives the examples of being surrounded by loved ones and doing what’s important during those last days.

“Spend real quality time,” suggests Ross. She says this could mean simple, everyday things, like watching your grandson play soccer. 

For many people, it means leaving nothing undone. “When that time comes, there is a sense of comfort and peace.”

And if you know someone in that position, you can do a lot to help them.

“Ask them questions,” says Ross. “What is important to them? What they would like to do? What do they need to be at peace?”

Sabrina Atwal, senior advisor of media relations with Alberta Health Services (AHS), advises discussing practical and important matters.

“Families can have conversations about their loved ones’ wishes for the end of life, and document them, in case they cannot speak for themselves. This helps take the guesswork out of the process for healthcare providers. It also reduces the stress family members may feel during such an emotionally hard time,” says Atwal.

Explore resources at conversationsmatter.ca so loved ones know that they’ve covered everything needed and can figure out a plan.

Atwal says, “This includes appointing an advocate who can speak on your behalf if you cannot speak for yourself and having your financial affairs in order.”

Families may also access respite so they can spend quality time with their dying loved one instead of being a caregiver.

Pilgrims Hospice Society, currently building the Roozen Family Hospice Centre, offers supportive services and programming. 

“We focus on living up until death,” says Ross, explaining Pilgrims Hospice offers services like caregiving and pain control. With an average stay of 17 days for those at the end of their life, the society offers community programming as well as an adult respite day program.

“It’s a great recreation,” says Ross. “It takes people away from being ill.” The program has services like art and pet therapy.

They also offer community outreach, grief services, and a home respite program. With their program called No One Dies Alone, if someone has no one to sit by their side as they’re dying, the hospice will provide someone for the last three days of life.

And of course, don’t be afraid to ask for help. 

Ross says, “I would say it’s important to look for help whenever possible so you have the help whenever possible.” She adds, “Take people up on offers to help. People do want to help, but they don’t know what to offer. Don’t be afraid to talk to your caseworker and ask for more assistance.”

If you are the one who is terminally ill, the same principle applies.

“If you do have a family, ask for help. Your caseworker will be even more important.”

Those who receive a palliative diagnosis are assigned a caseworker, Ross explains. It’s usually an RN, and different resources are available depending on the situation.

Other useful information includes the Alberta Hospice and Palliative Care Association (includes workshops, education, and programming) and the Canadian Hospice and Palliative Care Association. 

Or, visit albertahealthservices.ca/info/Page14778.aspx for palliative and end-of-life options.

Atwal says, “The website has resources, stories, grief support services, hospice information, and what to do after a death. If patients are seeking a medically assisted death, information can be found at ahs.ca/maid.

Ross explains that dying well is important.

“It really makes for a better experience for everyone. It’s sad, but you know your loved one died in the best way possible, to be able to walk away from a death, knowing you did everything you could.” She adds, “It’s important to leave nothing unsaid, resolve issues, apologize or patch up relationships. Leave spiritually and emotionally peaceful.”


Featured Image: Dying well means different things to everyone, but it can generally include being prepared and spending time with loved ones. | Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Talea Medynski

Talea is the Rat Creek Press editor. She loves sharing the stories of our diverse neighbourhoods.

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