There are plenty of philosophical questions surrounding death, but one sometimes discussed by residents of Encino and elsewhere is whether it’s ‘better’ for someone to pass away quickly or go through a long process of palliative care, decline and eventually death.
These type of questions have no right or wrong answer but plenty of pros and cons that can be argued. In the end, of course, it’s based on the individual experience and their particular situation and heath conditions – and, rather than having this debate at all, most people would simply prefer to choose “none of the above.”
But the team at Accredited Home Care does hear this discussion especially in situations where someone is experiencing an extended illness that will eventually become terminal, such as some types of cancer. Or some forms of dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease don’t cause immediate death but will slowly cause permanent decline to the mind and body.
People around them are also affected, including how they cope with the decline. They may treasure any remaining time with a loved one but also may find additional challenges as his or her health needs and their caregiving duties change.
It also can affect the grieving process – does having more or less time make the pain any better or worse? Only you and your situation will know for sure.
Dealing with change
A death that happens quickly and unexpectedly, such as in an accident or a rapidly-advancing health condition, takes everyone by surprise. For family members, it often requires putting the formal grieving process on hold, forcing people to react quickly and put some of their feelings on the back burner while they deal with practical matters.
For instance, loved ones often are stunned, shocked and ready to break down in tears at any minute but they still need to deal with the logistics of a loss such as organizing funeral services and dealing with financial and legal matters.
While it’s always a good idea for someone to plan ahead for this possibility, like making burial arrangements, creating a will and finalizing estate information, not everyone does so. Or if they do, their loved ones may not know about it or have easy access to this paperwork when death does occur.
On the other hand, someone with an extended illness may have more time to focus on this type of planning and organization. This can give them – and their loved ones – better peace of mind. Having clear wishes for everything from what type of music to play at a service to who gets what assets can avoid family disputes or uncertainty later.
Loved ones may not get a chance to fully grieve until after all the details are taken care of, which may be months later.
The grieving process
The traditional process of grief focuses on five areas: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
There’s no timeline on when you’re supposed to move from stage to stage, and some mental health experts even theorize that the process is less linear and it’s common to move back and forth between stages as you deal with a loss.
In a ‘sudden death’ situation, the person who passes away won’t have to deal with these but their loved ones will, sometimes for years.
But in a situation involving an extended illness, everyone deals with the grief processes, sometimes at different points.
This can create the possibility of tension if one person is at one point of the process but others around them are at different ones.
For instance, the person with the terminal illness may have moved to the acceptance stage and is ready in their mind for what’s coming next, while their loved ones want them to continue trying all sorts of methods to prolong the inevitable.
Or the opposite may be true – family members may be trying to deal with and understand their pending decline but their loved one is still a few phases behind.
These types of situations can, at best, create some positive conversations as people work with each other and communicate how they’re feeling. This sort of dialogue can bring people together and won’t happen in the event of a quick death.
In a sense, this is a form of grief that can be experienced in advance, prior to someone’s passing. Things will still hurt when someone actually dies, but some of the thought processes of dealing with their loss has already been examined.
The team at Accredited Home Care is familiar with death and the grieving process since it’s part of our world. We also are aware that some of our clients and their families have less experience or are new to the different questions, concerns or feelings that come up.
This month is a great time for everyone to learn more! Aug. 30 is National Grief Awareness Day, an annual occasion where people are encouraged to learn more about area resources, along with strategies for the next time it comes your way.