It is sometimes perplexing for healthy people to even imagine what is going on in a dying person’s mind. From our perspective, they might be feeling heartbroken and completely distressed knowing they only have limited time to live. After all, everyone has a fear of death. It’s just normal human emotion to be afraid of the finality of life.
However, a research published in Psychological Science reveals that it is not the case at all for people who are actually dying. Their actual emotional experiences are more positive than people expect. The research included the examination of the final blog posts of terminally ill patients and the last words of death row inmates. Contrary to what other people think, many dying people have accepted their inevitable fate. They generally don’t feel lonely, but rather they are filled with “love, social connection and meaning.”
Death for healthy people is a threatening idea. However for many terminally ill patients, death is not what worries them. It is many other things.
As their time nears, they want their affairs in order, their questions answered, and their wishes fulfilled. They know they are running out of time, and therefore they have more motivation to do the things they wish. Here are the seven things dying people want:
To Prevent Pain
In a perfect world, people would leave Earth without pain. But that is not the case always. There may be instances when patients experience excruciating pain in the final moments of their lives.
There is often the belief that pain and suffering are unavoidable when a person is dying. It doesn’t have to be that way, but the patients’ worry about suffering is palpable.
Many would like to spend their remaining time with the people they love. Pain would rob them of their final moments with their loved ones. Pain would deprive them of peaceful thoughts. What could be a serene moment for self-reflection might not happen at all because they are in excruciating pain. Instead of calmly accepting death, they might just be forced to take it because prolonging their time would mean more unbearable suffering. And that’s not how anyone wants to go.
For some as well, they want to give their surviving loved ones assurance that they are content with their fate. It is how they want things to be in order. They want to at least comfort their beloved family and friends and assure them that they are sincerely happy in their final moments. If they were in pain, it would devastate their loved ones.
Dying patients want to be reassured that they will have their final days and last moments without physical pain. The physicians and caregivers will try to make things easier for the patients, and that’s a hope that they cling on. The patients might have accepted death already, but pain is a different and very real concern.
To Be Involved In Making Decisions About Their Care
Their life might already have an end in sight, but it is still their life. Being given a cut life span means they have lost an important decision for themselves. Unlike healthier people, dying ones don’t have choice on what they would want to do for the far future anymore. They cannot plan that way ahead simply because they don’t have any future.
But as long as they are alive and lucid, they want to be involved in whatever decision needed for their own care. Their choice may not be what their loved ones would want for them, it needs to be respected and followed. They have already lost an option to live longer; they wouldn’t want to lose other decisions too.
They could decide to spend their remaining life in the hospital where they can receive formal care. Perhaps they want this so they cannot be a burden anymore for their loved ones. It can also be because they know they can receive the best care in a place where there are complete equipment and attentive professionals. Or they could opt to spend their last days at home, where they are surrounded by their family. It might not have all the modern equipment they need, but they feel most comfortable there.
There are a lot of other things that require decisions for their care. Loved ones tend to decide what they think would be the best for the dying, and they may be right in some cases. Nevertheless, it is important that the patients are involved in making decisions for their own care. They should feel that even on what appears to be for petty things, they regain their power to decide for themselves.
To Know What to Expect
The process of dying may not be the most comfortable topic, but some people want to know it so they can go through with it with open eyes. They want to know what to expect.
As Cancer.org explains, some of them feel they need to be aware of the process they are going through. They want to make sure their wishes are followed when it comes to death. Perhaps they want to know how they will die, making sure that machines are not used to keep them alive if one of their vital organs failed. Knowing what to expect about their impending death gives them back power.
It might not be a pleasant subject for the patient as well as their loved ones. Sometimes the details are gruesome and difficult. But it’s something that they need to know. It’s already a painful journey; they don’t want to be burdened with not knowing anything. The important thing is they are aware of what will happen. They can prepare for it.
Not knowing what they are up against also feeds fear. Ignorance can frighten even those who have already accepted their fate.
Doctors and hospice caregivers can give them the answers that they need in a supportive, sympathetic and yet forthright manner. They can provide expert advice about the process that the patients will go through and how they can make things comfortable for them.
To Know the Meaning in Their Lives
Dying patients speak of deeper subjects, such as the meaning of life for them. Their lives are about to be cut short, and so they tend to reflect and look back at their life for meaning.
According to hospicenet.org, they tend to take inventory of their life. They have uncertainties, fears and hopes. They question the direction they had taken, search for the meaning of their life. They establish new courses to take, make the most of the time they have left.
When someone is dying, they know that their time on Earth is ending, but there could be something waiting for them somewhere else. This all depends on their beliefs or religion, and how they reflect on their life is affected by their beliefs. They might feel they have done everything they could and wanted to, or perhaps they might feel they haven’t done enough. Self-reflection is not limited to those who are religious. Those who believe that death is really the end also question the choices they had made, the course they had taken, the direction which they would like to take etc.
The finality of death or the unknown following it prompts the dying to question and search for meaning. There might not be a satisfactory answer to their question, but whatever it is, it’s only them who can answer it.
To Know The Meaning in Their Relationships
The advantage of knowing that you will die is having time to say goodbye to your loved ones. It’s a bittersweet special privilege that others don’t get to have. For the dying, they can prepare what they want to say and how to say it to those they love or even those who did them wrong or who have been wronged by them.
They can write letters, shoot videos, talk in person, or pass their message to others. What they will say and how they will say it is completely up to them. And if they truly want, they can say nothing at all. It’s their prerogative, one that they can use—or not use at all—however they want. A message can comfort those whom they are leaving. It can also bring closure to the dying.
That said, sometimes the message is not what’s important; it’s the meaning in their relationships. It’s about how meaningful do they hold each of their relationships. It’s also about the sense of it all. They question the meaning in their relationships just as they question the meaning in their life. According to Psychological Science, the action may help quell their anxiety about death as it approaches.
To be Able to Contribute
This may be a little more difficult to grant to dying patients because their health, and therefore physical strength, is declining. However, even when they are approaching their end, they do not want to feel useless. They want to help and contribute.
Odds are that they already have their own hospice caregiver or a loved one who volunteered to give care to them. They are the ones who need assistance. They cannot do the things that they used to do anymore, such as work and household chores. They cannot even help their family out with anything involving physical activities.
However, that doesn’t mean they can’t contribute anymore. They just have to do that in different ways. They don’t need to feel useless. Their body might be giving up on them, but as long as they have their mind still strong, they can still help their loved ones.
This may be through emotional support. As strange as it may sound, dying patients may not be the ones who are emotionally compromised; it may be the people around them. Many terminally ill people have accepted that they have only a limited time to live. However, their loved ones may still be having difficulty in accepting that they will soon lose them. It’s not something that’s easy to do because they will continue on living long after the patient is gone. They would only have memories to help them go through their day.
The dying patient, however, can help their loved ones accept what’s happening. They can offer comfort just as they can accept comfort from their family and friends.
To Be Seen as a Person, Not an Illness
In an article on Oprah.com, “On Living” author Kerry Egan, who is also a hospice chaplain, wrote that many dying patients are starved for touch. Although they are physically touched by their caregivers, as it’s necessary to assist them in their daily activities, it is not the same as the touch they used to get from their loved ones.
Dying people change physically. They look, sound and even smell differently. These changes, as well as the fact that the patient is dying, can overwhelm their family and friends. This is why their treatment of the patient changes as well. They may avoid the patient completely, not because they are disgusted, but because they are afraid of their dying beloved. It’s hard to see and treat terminally ill people as they had before: healthy and without the impending deadline on their life.
But again, dying people are still people and should be treated as such. They are not defined by their illness. They have a shortened life span, but they are still living. That is what terminally ill patients want and need, to be seen as people, not their illness.
Just imagine you are leaving the world soon and your loved ones are avoiding interacting with you. They don’t touch you and they speak to you only as required. How would you feel about that? Also imagine a different reaction from them. They are not avoiding you but they are treating you as someone incapable of anything. It may be out of sympathy, but it would still hurt you. Instead of creating cherished moments with them before you leave this world, your time with them is cut significantly shorter because they treat you differently now.
Dying people only have a limited time to live. Make every moment count.