A “Good Life” GARDEN for Blooming and Ending Well
When confronted with the shock of our imminent mortality in a terminal diagnosis, what makes a good life, is the same as that, which makes a good end...and you're still breathing, it's not too late to begin.
The hospice team is created to help us talk about what is difficult and find comfort:
• socially and
The fact that everyone who has lived on the planet to date, has passed on (or will) does not give as much comfort as it could when faced with our own personal experience of serious illness. It is commonly outside our experience…It is new to us.
Americans live in an over-medicalized, fall-to-fragility, end-of-life model that tends to see death as a failure. We deny it is ours to do…until we can no longer keep up the pretense. Our collective end-of-life template is so limited, and deeply ingrained that it is hard to see our way to better–even when what we have creates more suffering than need be.
We’ve reached a “new normal” where people are so afraid to talk about death that they agree to interventions that shorten or ruin a patient’s remaining time.” - Atul Gatwande, Being Mortal
Most people want to die at home, in our sleep, and pain-free. We know how to do this with hospice and a team that serves us, but few achieve this ‘good death’. Why?
The GARDEN as a Healthy Model for a GOOD END
There are healthier models for our own end, and with help from a team of family, friends and faith, it is not only possible but easier.
As spiritual beings having an Earthly experience, gardens and their seasons are better models for a healthy “end”. What we plant might grow beyond us, or it may not. We give it our best shot. It is a Joyous Wager in that we did what we thought best at the time. We might plant an apple tree but mistakenly it grows oranges. Rejoicing in orange juice or trying again for apples are our choices. We each have a limited number of seasons to play. Death helps us clarify what is important every day of our lives if we use it. When this reality sinks in that we do not have unlimited time on the planet, it changes us, our priorities and orientation. Death keeps time and because my life is not unlimited, it is precious.
How we make a good end is about our final winter, but also the potential of crafting a living legacy, which models death as part of life. Our families and culture are hungry for these embodied life-lessons, which comforts those who remain.
TALKING ABOUT IT: Clarity & the Five Engagements
Talking about death is our last taboo. We lose the benefit of our personal lineage of experience from who have come before us…our own family’s death experience. Dying well, like living well, is a bit of work. Why reinvent the wheel by not knowing, and not talking about it? Your hospice team knows and can help you talk about death.
As a hospice chaplain, I walk with people who are on the edge of their lives. I see death well met and kindly engaged in a dance with God, which becomes a renewable blessing to those who witness it. I also see the opposite. To keep up pretense at the end is exhausting for the ill and their loved ones. We also lose the opportunity to make beautiful use of the time we have left:
• to say goodbye,
• to ask for forgiveness, or
• to be forgiven,
• to say that you are sorry…and
• to offer the penultimate blessing, of an ‘I love you’.
The simple clarity and necessity of these five engagements are life changing–for your own good end and the ripple effect into the next generation.
No one benefits from unfinished business.
We need all we have learned in life to effectively speak our goodbyes, embody a positive transition that will satisfy us and enrich our loved ones…with that legacy in their own life and, eventual passing. Like water ripples in a still lake, our actions here at our own end, might be a blessing on both how to live well…and how to die satisfied that we did and were enough.
Death is not a failure but a fulfillment.
A good end is easier than you might at first imagine. We have a well of wisdom for a better, braver return journey - guided by our Higher Selves, hospice and with a little help from our friends and hospice.