My husband died a little over a month ago of a fierce cancer that he fought for nine years. He had great doctors and good hospice care, but I would not say that he had a “good” death. He caught pneumonia and died struggling to breathe. I had had him transferred from home to hospice’s inpatient facility where I hoped he could be more comfortable. I was utterly exhausted and went home to catch a few hours of sleep. He died a few hours later, and I wasn’t there. I will always struggle with that.
It seems that when some people talk about a “good” death, they mean slipping away peacefully and painlessly, free of pain, lucid, and surrounded by loved ones. Even with good hospice care, I don’t think you can count on orchestrating death so neatly. It is wrong to create false expectations. All the same, Hospice can promise a humane, if not a perfect death. No need to die horribly, as my Great Grandmother did, screaming until she was too weak to scream. Thank God for hospice.
My husband and I did not have, for me, a satisfactory conversation addressing his wishes, thoughts, feelings. He only communicated these things in fragments, to many people. He may have been trying to spare me pain, as I was trying to spare him pain. Maybe he felt he had communicated everything he needed to communicate. Maybe I wasn’t listening carefully enough. Maybe I should have forced the issue. It takes enormous courage to discuss these things, for both parties. People should recognize this, and have the conversation while the dying person still has mental clarity, and everyone has the energy.
What I learned from my own experience is the importance of really living life each day, or each week, or each month, as if it were the last; there is no way of knowing. I will commit to expecting good things, being kinder, doing as much of what I love as possible, and spending my energy on people I love, or could get to love.