Since our book has been out I’ve been frequently asked what defines a good death.
Of course we all want a peaceful, comfortable death surrounded by loved ones, and this is part of what a good death is. It is also about spending those last months, weeks and days on our own terms and living as fully as we can until we die. But a good death does not necessarily mean an easy one. Dying has a labor the way birth does and everyone’s is unique. Some seem effortless and truly easy, but often there is a period of “active labor” in dying where the person may be agitated for a period of time, have difficulty breathing and fevers. There are also the emotional and spiritual aspects of dying, the need to gradually let go of our ties here, and the work of saying goodbye. The moment of death is often peaceful, and we can do a lot now to keep people comfortable. But we can’t make it perfect, and I think we need to embrace the entire journey even when it is hard.
When my father was dying, he had congestive heart failure, so had fluid in his lungs the final hours, which caused labored breathing and sounded terrible. My sisters and I had gotten him out of the hospital a week before when we realized he was not going to get better. We had a week of loving him, singing with him and taking turns sleeping next to him. As his lungs filled, the three of us turned him way over on his side to allow the fluids to drain, removed his oxygen and held on to him as he let go of his last breath. I feel he had the best death possible, and what made it good was that he died in the arms of his daughters, as we told him we loved him and gave him our blessings to go.