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Facing Death with Blinders On

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By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. (Luke 1:78-79)

Death is a reality for all of us. Yet, most of our society avoids thinking about it. Most will go to just about any length to avoid the thought of our own mortality. Consequently, we’re bad at death. That is why I was drawn to an article by Dhruv Khullar, entitled “We’re Bad at Death. Can We Talk?” Khullar states, “For years the medical profession has largely fumbled the question of what we should do when there’s nothing more we can do.” Over and over I have watched people suffer in the final months, weeks, and days of life. I believe most physicians have been taught to save lives, but have not been taught how to help people die. Many physicians struggle with the elderly because they consider death a failure.

Speaking of the last month of life, Khullar points out, “In their last month alone, half of all Medicare patients go to an emergency department, one-third are admitted to an I.C.U., and one-fifth will have surgery-even though 80 percent of patients say they hope to avoid hospitalization and intensive care at the end of life.” Instead of guiding those at the last stage of life to address the reality of death with dignity and comfort, we often keep trying to “fix” them in painful and unnecessary ways. Palliative and hospice care are often ignored.

In rural areas and in the southern part of our country, palliative care is hard to find, and when available, it is often understaffed and underfunded. Further, almost half of white Americans use palliative or hospice care at the end of their lives. Only one-third of African Americans and 28% of Asian-Americans use palliative care or hospice. We can do a better job of teaching the benefits of facing death in a different way than fighting to heal individuals at the end stages of life. We need to address these opportunities around the country, especially in the south, and among all our people.

As Christians, I believed we are called to model healthy living, and healthy dying. Healthy dying includes facing the reality of our death with courage. This courage includes facing death with clear planning. This planning includes having a living will, discussing your desires with your family, and deciding how you wish to die, whether at home, at hospice, or hospital. Finally, make your funeral arrangements, including the funeral service. Share how you want your body disposed of after death. Pray for God to impart the courage for each of us to face our own deaths, and be faithful enough to guide our loved ones, so they can focus on remembering us fondly and celebrating God’s fulfillment of the resurrection, unto eternal life.