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  • Writer's picturegab2long

What is a Good Death?


If you’ve been paying attention to the literature around death, you’ve probably noticed an expression in the news: A Good Death.


Isn’t that an oxymoron? What about death can be good?


You might not want to use the word “good” in a sentence with death. While death is not often considered ‘good’ in the usual sense, death can be planned and orchestrated in a way that allows the dying to have their wishes fulfilled and, at the same time, helps those left behind feel like things went well in the end.


A good death might be defined as one that is well-planned ahead of time, with the dying process unfolding in a way that is close to the plan. The plan covers your medical care choices (what care you want, what care you don’t want), the location of death (home vs. facility), and the people and things in the immediate environment. Pain is controlled and death occurs peacefully. The dying person has a sense of closure, feels loved and valued, and trusts in their caregivers. They’ve left a legacy for their family, have no/minimal regrets and unfinished business, and have paid their bills. They recognize with some ease that the body is failing and feel peaceful and prepared to leave the physical world.


And then there’s the opposite. You have no control over your medical care decisions because you didn’t fill out an advance directive or tell anyone what you wanted. Your family is unaware of your wishes and concerns, so they make medical decisions on your behalf. They feel terrible because they fear they’ve made decisions you didn’t want. And they carry that guilt for a long time after your death.


As you can see, the big difference here is that the dying person has planned all the details, informed their family and medical team, and appointed a reliable healthcare surrogate to carry out their wishes. They’ve hired an End-of-Life Doula to help create a legacy project, provide emotional, educational, logistical, and spiritual support, and who can accompany them during their last days. The Doula lets you and your loved ones know what to expect and advocates for your wishes. She supports your family in caring for you and in handling the logistics and grief.


As an End-of-Life Doula, I have witnessed the difference between a planned and well-supported death and one that happens without planning and support. The differences are stark.


If there’s so much difference between a planned and an unplanned death, why don’t more people plan?


Here are some of the comments people make about why they don’t want to plan their death:


“I can rely on the medical staff to care for me.”

“ I can rely on hospice to take care of me.”

“My family will just know what to do.”

“Death is scary, and I can’t talk about it”

“All deaths are painful.”

“I don’t want to worry about it now.”

“My family doesn’t want to talk about it”

The list goes on.


Death is not a possibility or a probability. It is a reality. We plan for all the events in our lives – our graduations, weddings, births, anniversaries, and more. Why don’t we plan for death like other events?


Death is an event that we can plan and celebrate in a different way from other events. Yes, there is grief and loss, but there can also be joy and satisfaction that our lives have been meaningful, that we’ve loved and been loved, and that we’ve had adventures and beautiful experiences (with some difficult ones thrown in for variety). The end of a well-lived life (even if it seems too short) is a cause for celebration.


That is my definition of a good death.

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