End of Life: Do you think about your plan?

Garden Entrance at Ian Anderson House

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.

End of Life: Ask the experts, share your stor­ies — The Globe and Mail.

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