How Do You Feel About Death and Dying?

How Do You Feel About Death and Dying?

I listened intently as Katherine, the Advance Care Planning nurse practitioner, spoke with Aunt Audrey about her health. She discussed Audrey’s recent fall that landed her in the hospital and now the transitional care unit at the Masonic Home. At 91 years old, Audrey’s falls were becoming more regular, and this one really knocked her down.

Talking about death and dying with Audrey

Audrey M. Simmons

Katherine skillfully guided Audrey through questions that painted a beautiful picture of her life—questions about Audrey’s husband and how they met, her children and grandchildren, her love of music and her talent as a pianist. I enjoyed hearing the stories and watching Audrey’s eyes brighten as she reminisced and talked about what mattered most in her life.

And then, ever so gently, Katherine asked, “Audrey, how do you feel about death and dying? It might happen sometime fairly soon.”


Defiance From a 91 Year Old

“I’m not going to die!” Audrey defiantly proclaimed. I marveled at her legendarily stubborn, Swedish streak. Here she was, lying in bed at a transitional care facility after a week in the hospital, declaring with certainty, “I’m not going to die.”

Two weeks later, I had the privilege of spending time alone with Audrey. After several minutes of conversation, I asked the same question Katherine had introduced. “Audrey, how do you feel about death and dying.”

Not surprisingly, I received the same obstinate response. “I’m not going to die.”

The Value of Listening

I took a deep breath and leaned closer. I held her hand. “Audrey, you are nearing the end of your life. You will be dying sometime soon. It might not be today or this week or this month, but soon. Death is inevitable for all of us.”

She relented a bit. “I know.” And then she whispered, “I’m scared.”

I gently pushed forward. “Can you describe more specifically what scares you?”

“I don’t know what it will be like.” A few tears spilled from her eyes.

Audrey’s stubborn defiance that death would not claim her was loosened in a moment of vulnerability. I wrapped my arms around her and hugged her.

For the next few minutes, Audrey and I talked about her life-long faith, about heaven, and about being reunited with loved ones. We named them—her husband, three brothers, parents and more. I reminded Audrey that unimaginable beauty and inexpressible joy awaited her in heaven.  No more pain. No more tears. I watched as her body relaxed. I sensed her fear was waning. We prayed together and then embraced.

Confronting Your Mortality

If you are like Audrey, confronting your mortality might stir up fear in your heart. Admittedly, overcoming the tendency to deny death takes courage. Yet preparing for the probability of end-of-life healthcare decisions required on your behalf is a choice you can make that will yield remarkable benefits for you and those you love.

This list of 7 important reasons to write your healthcare directive can inspire you to express your wishes.

In fact, Audrey had prepared. I’d met with Audrey and her daughters two years ago to revise her healthcare directive. Furthermore, Audrey consulted with her doctor to write a POLST. Thankfully, Audrey slipped away in her sleep. Crisis decisions were not required.

Breaking the Conspiracy of Silence

Audrey’s end-of-life journey taught me the value of quietly listening. Families and patients often engage in a conspiracy of silence, each afraid to speak the truth about death and dying. For Audrey, having permission to express her fear introduced the opportunity for her mind and heart to imagine heaven.

We buried Audrey three weeks ago. Her funeral was a wonderful family gathering that honored her memory. I will miss her spunky spirit and her warm hugs. I will cherish the memory of our final conversation and prayer together. And, I’m grateful that she reminded me to simply listen.



You can prepare for the responsibility of serving as the healthcare agent for one or both of your parents. This FREE guide will help you to prepare for the future possibility of making medical and personal care decisions for your Mom or Dad. Interested? Click here to download your copy.
  Healthcare Agent Preparation Guide

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