A Beautiful Death

A Beautiful Death

Palliative care is essential for a beautiful death.

Paul Scheier is my role model. At the age of 86, when his cancer had returned, Paul chose to forego hospitals and aggressive treatment. He wanted to experience the best quality of life possible during his remaining days.

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In his story—the story of A Beautiful Death — Paul and his family come to terms with his final months of living. With the support of palliative care, Paul achieved his goal of dying peacefully. Paul and his family experienced a beautiful death.

Paul was sustained by friendships and family. Frequent lunch dates with lifelong friends cultivated much joy and laughter, for both him and them. His family’s unity in walking with Paul through the journey showed their deep love and care, not only for Paul, but also for one another.

Palliative care—also known as comfort care—is essential for both the patient and the family through the duration of a significant medical crisis.  Suffering through the journey is not required; symptom and pain management are possible. Importantly, palliative care attends to the whole person by addressing the physical, emotional, spiritual and psychological dimensions of a journey through a medical crisis or ongoing chronic condition.

Judith Redwing Keyssar, Director of the Palliative Care Program at Seniors at Home, shares: “Palliative care offers additional layers of support to people already dealing with serious medical issues but who need more than what our fragmented system can offer. Palliative care includes communicating about what it feels like to have a disease, understanding the impact of social and financial issues and appreciating the spiritual aspects of people’s lives—whether that is religion, a love of music or nature or something completely personal.”

It is common to be confused about the intersection of hospice and palliative care. Both offer comfort and support for the patient and the family. Both medically manage symptoms and pain. What differentiates the two is the timing of care delivery. Whereas palliative care can be offered for any patient requiring symptom management through the course of a chronic condition, acute injury or life-limiting disease, hospice care is typically focused on the final six months of life.

In the past decade, palliative care has evolved as a recognized specialty for inpatient care. Outpatient palliative care—other than for hospice—has been adopted more slowly. Recently, assisted-living and skilled-nursing facilities have begun cultivating palliative care programs to respond proactively to older adults’ needs for symptom and pain management, even when death is not imminent.

Be prepared.

Three proactive steps could make all the difference during a future medical crisis.

1.  Get educated about palliative care.

The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization offers a range of resources that can help you and your family learn more about comfort care. At your next doctor’s visit, ask your physician about both inpatient and outpatient palliative care services at your preferred hospital. Knowing the options in advance of a crisis will be helpful to you and your loved ones.

2. Voice your wishes for palliative care.

When you share your future and end-of-life healthcare wishes with your loved ones, express your desire for palliative care. Ask family members about their wishes.

3. Be ready to advocate for palliative care.

As a relatively new specialty, not all physicians or hospitals recognize the need for palliative care. In fact, some hospitals do not have a palliative care specialist on staff. You and your healthcare agents must zealously assert your need for comfort care through the duration of a medical crisis.

Dying is hard work. Comfort care makes it less hard.

In his remarkable work Dying Well, Dr. Ira Byock, Professor of Medicine and Community & Family Medicine at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, writes that dying is a far more personal process than medical. Well-managed symptoms and pain can address the physical nature of dying, and importantly, create space for the personal journey—the emotional, relational, social, and spiritual work of dying.

Our individual, family, and national conversation about death must include palliative care. Only when suffering is alleviated can a sacred, beautiful death be experienced. You, and those you love, deserve comfort and dignity through the journey towards a beautiful death.

QUESTION: Have you or a loved one experienced the benefit of palliative care? Will you please share your story by adding a comment and sharing this post via social media?

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