Dancing Around Death

Dancing Around Death

Death is not an easy topic to discuss. One may think doctors, whose job encircles death, would be comfortable discussing the dreaded topic. However, it is apparent that even they struggle to find the right words when addressing a dying patient or a family who has yet to be informed that they lost a loved one. Through my experience with the Ascend Hospice Volunteer Program, the second prompt dealing with the article from AMA Journal of Ethics titled “Medical Students and Dying” had the most profound impact on me and my understanding of death and dying.

The initial striking aspect of the article was that even doctors and medical students are uncomfortable talking about death. In the medical field, death is oftentimes viewed as a medical failure, according to the article. This mindset creates a negative image around the inevitably of death and influences the discomfort which surrounds the topic. While it is an understandable viewpoint, my experience with patients in hospice care has lead me to see a different perspective that I believe will help me when I go into the medical field. For some, death is a form of release — release from pain, loneliness, feelings of purposelessness, and unhappiness. The loss of control hospice patients experience is an uncomfortable truth that leads many to await death with welcoming arms. While it may seem morbid, this perspective is imperative in understanding that death is a natural occurrence and need not be as uncomfortable of a topic to discuss with one another as it is. Instead of viewing it as a failure, I view death as the next stage in a definite cycle. It is due to this program and my encounters with the older, dying population that have allowed me to see this. I believe this multidimensional approach to talking about dying will help me reassure and bring comfort and consolation to both patients who are dying as well as families who are dealing with the loss of one of their own.

This revelation has led me to further wonder and understand the human tendency to want to be in control. For the doctors who are unsure of how to approach the topic of death, it is partially due to their discomfort with their lack of control in the matter. Doctors make their decisions off of definitive knowledge and exercise control over treatment, symptoms, other caregivers, and procedures. Giving up control once a patient is dying and treatment is not working, or once the patient already has died, is difficult. As the person who is dying, the lack of control in the larger processes of the body and life, and even of the mind, is scary and unfamiliar. It leads to fear of death and the unknown. We as humans need to realize that not everything is in our control and not to panic when things are out of our control. Relinquishing that control may even lead to feelings of peace and contentment knowing that things will unfold as they should.

This hospice volunteer program has opened my mind significantly. I now view death more three-dimensionally, which has allowed me to become more comfortable talking about death, being around those who are dying, and communicating with those who have lost people they love. I strongly believe that what I have learned through these experiences will carry-over with me into my professional career as well as in my personal life.

Article link: http://journalofethics.ama-assn.org/2013/12/ecas3-1312.html