For the past week, the Globe and Mail has discussed the theme of critical care, palliative, care, and decisions for end-of-life in Canada. The population in Canada is not only aging with concerns of how we will care for the “baby-boom” generation in the coming years, but the ailments in which people die from are currently completely different from 50 years previous. Cancer is the number 1 killer, and chronic disease and ailments from chronic disease will require increasing support from critical care, and eventually palliative care. Doctors are trained to help prolong life and support a better quality of life, but certainly we are not trained to support those with choices of death unless we are directly involved in palliative care. This is why I feel it so important to discuss these issues.
My own personal experiences with death in the past year taught me a great deal about life, quality of life, and how to prepare for death. My mother passed away from a 5 year long battle with colon cancer last April. A fighter to the end, she had never really intended on dying, and her expressed wish was not to die. Stubborn to the end (I say this with fondness)! She wanted to die at home, and we were lucky that between family and friends support we were able to keep her there for as long as we felt we were best taking care of her. We chose eventually that palliative care with the Ian Anderson House would be the right choice for her, and for our family, it was.
Ian Anderson House relies on the donations of businesses, foundations, individuals, and fundraising to raise the operating costs of $600,000/year and the $1800/day that is required to keep residents comfortable for the duration of their stay. The cost to families is nothing as a result. Residents are kept comfortable, the kitchen bakes and cooks food for the residents; families can get some sustenance with tea, coffee, and cookies aplenty. The nurses, personal support workers, and counsellors were able to support us through our early grieving process while keeping our mother comfortable. We were able to talk to my mother during her lucid times, and were able to keep her comfortable with morphine. The kindness and love in the facility was palpable, and we made connections and friendships with other families in the facility. In the process of death, it was a wonderful experience in many ways. We were so grateful that the Ian Anderson House was there for us to have this experience.
There were so many realities however about death that we had not considered. As my mother had not expressed her final wishes to us, we did have some angst as a family on making the right decisions for her. We did not want to see her in pain, and we knew that living in suffering and not as herself would not what we would want for her, nor would she want for herself. We also experienced a great deal of naiveté from friends around us who had not experienced loss in a palliative respect; friends who believed that she was not suffering, that death was preventable, that it would be “fine”. In the process of death, I realized how few actually understand the process and what life and the quality of life at the end of your life really means.
As this post is a departure from my normal approach to health, the prevention and improvement in quality of life, I thought it important to shed awareness on the wonderful articles on this topic from the Globe and Mail. While we never want to think about our mortality, there will be a time that we need to make choices for ourselves or loved ones and the end of life. It can be painful or scary to think about in advance of course, but sometimes important things are scary and we need to push back the fear and educate ourselves. At the end of life, when there is an understanding that it is at its end, thinking ahead about how you want to spend your time with family and friends, or where you want to be in advance is important. This may even mean putting some of your savings aside in the event you need support for care at home, as death unfortunately does have a practical side.
Please take the time to think about these issues. While you are vital and in good health, thinking about your end of life and your goals is honouring your life.