“Doctor, I’ve got a fundraising idea for the hospice.”
“I’ve been going for walks around the garden and there are a lot of nice plants. Some of them you can’t find in garden centres. Has the hospice ever thought about selling plants?”
“No, we haven’t.”
“Here’s a photo of some plants I noticed. They have self-propagated themselves and are growing well. Do you think I could make a donation in exchange for two of the plants?”
“I’ll check with the gardening team, but I think that will be fine if there are a lot of the plants. What are you thinking of doing with the plants?”
“I’d like to plant them in my garden. You’ve all looked after me so well during my admission. I’d like to maintain some connection to hospice even after I am gone. So later on when my children see the plants in our garden they will remember my time in hospice as a good time.”
“That sounds nice. I’ll get our team onto it and we’ll make it happen. Don’t worry about the donation.”
“No Doctor, I must insist. I know my donation will benefit other patients.”
We knew he would die soon and we asked him if he wanted us to contact anyone. He told us he would like his son to know, but he didn’t have his phone number. By this time he was too unwell and needed help with communication via social media. Our nurses helped him to send a message via his accounts. He died before he received any replies.
As per his wishes, we had arranged for a funeral director to uplift his body as he had wanted a simple cremation. He had limited savings and arrangements had been made with social welfare for a funeral grant to pay for his cremation. Our nurses again checked his social media accounts and found a reply from his son, including a phone number. A phone call was made overseas and was answered by the young man’s foster mother. She was told of our patient’s death, and said that his son wanted to come over to see him, and would arrive in town in three days’ time.
At a palliative care conference years ago the audience was asked to choose between two options. Would you rather die instantly without warning or would you rather know about it and die more gradually? We were instructed to think through both options for a few minutes before a show of hands was counted for each option.
Dying instantly, for example from a cardiac arrest, would mean less suffering for the dying person. It’s possible it wouldn’t be so bad for the person going through it. No fear of what was about to happen to them would be generated as they would be taken by surprise.
Ignorance may well be blissful but would have drawbacks as well. Total loss of control, and inability to finish important business. You’d be robbed of the chance to say goodbye to those important to you. You wouldn’t be able to leave your intended legacy. Death is associated with loss and sudden death is associated with its own set of losses. Those left behind would also lose the opportunity to say goodbye to you, to obtain at least some sense of closure. Survivor’s guilt, “If I had known he was about to die I would never have left them alone at home.” There may be more suffering for your loved ones, so many things they will never be able to say to you again.