Was It a Good Death?

The other day, I was talking with one of my best friends, who is a physician.  I asked her how she was and she replied in hushed tones, 

“One of my favorite patients died.” 

 In mirrored hushed tones, I then asked, “Was it a good death?”  

Long pause…and she replied, after reflection, “Yes, it was a good death.”

When a medical person asks another medical person, “Was it a good death?” there are many questions they are asking:  

Did your patient die without suffering?  

Were they able to breath ok? 

Were they alone?  

Was their family with them?  

Were they able to say their final goodbyes?  

Was their family able to give their loved one a last sip of water to a dry mouth so they felt that they were somehow helping and giving back?  

Were they able to say goodbye?  

Were they in pain?  

Were they ok?  

Was everyone ok?  

…Are you ok?

For those of us who work in the medical field, this means, “Did we do our best with the task before us?”  

Unfortunately, death is a part of the medical SLP’s scope of experience.  There is a 6th sense that we develop around death and it opens a door to another level of emotions.  

I believe there are two most important times in a person’s life:  when they are born and when they die.  Both these times, we need to be celebrating life.

When an infant is born, we celebrate all the joys of a new life.  When a person dies, we celebrate the joys of a life well-lived.  In the event that a life was not well lived, we still celebrate the love or the good things that we can search for and find, as we believe that every life has value.  

As SLPs, we have a very small but very important part of the death process.  It is our responsibility to ensure that communication and safety of oral intake, if appropriate, is maximized.  

Without us, the final words of forgiveness, love, understanding are not given.  Without us, final breaths may be more painful than necessary.  Without us, it is important emotional milestones and healing are not met.  

Final times with a loved one are critically important for a decades-old hurt to be healed and this is the one and final time where a life of pain can be dealt with and healing can begin.  

It is an honor to work with those who are closing their lives and there is an importance in marking certain milestones for the best closing.  SLPs can be instrumental in helping patients and their loved ones honor their lives and relationships.  

We help our patients and their loved ones say their final words, give their final gives, eat their final sips, and take their last breath.  If we do this to the best of our abilities, the loved ones are able to move forward with their lives with less pain and less regret.

Some want to give love because they were loved. They want to give comfort and words of love back to one who has given so much to them. 

Some want to give love, not because they were loved, but because they can now love.  This is a way for them to say, “Look – I am ok and I can give this love to you now because I am a better person and love is part of who I am.”  This is a part of forgiveness and healing.

Some want to give because there is nothing else they can do and they just want to ease their loved ones suffering.

Some want to give because they are unsure of what else to do.   

As medical SLPs, we strive to minimize suffering.  It is an honor for us to help a patient, in their final days, exit their life as gracefully as possible.    

To say a patient of our died a good death means that we did the best we could.

So when we ask each other, “Was it a good death?”  you now know that question has so many other questions as well.  In the end, it means did we do our jobs to the best of our ability but it also means did we show compassion and take the time to honor that person’s life,  

By doing these things, we honor ourselves, our lives, our careers, and those who share our time with us.  

We need to all strive for a “good death”.  

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May 26, 2020

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