As a Christian, I was taught never to fear death because I have a Savior that has given His life for my sins, giving me an assurance that there is life after death. If we look into this fact from a secular point of view, this belief somehow gives meaning to life, and it stands to give people hope that death is not the end.
Other faiths also have their own version of the afterlife if those belief systems advocate one. But there are also those ideologies that do not offer an image of life after death. However, all of these beliefs offer their own kind of explanation for life and its impending end.
I am not afraid of dying. I think I am ready to leave this world anytime. But having people leaving me behind is another story. Even before I had experienced a death in the family, I have been avoiding the thought of them dying.
My first experience of dealing with the death of a loved one was back in 2015. My paternal grandmother died due to complications, too many that I was not able to inquire about. I was just accepted into medical school and was still recovering from the stress of graduation. I was coping from a commencement of a long-distance relationship and was still adjusting to the demands of a fresh graduate. Then, our relatives called and informed us that my grandmother was already dying.
I was not able to express my real feelings about her death. I was able to meet her alive in a hospital bed one week before she died. Her condition was very foreign to me at that time; I was still not exposed to medical terminologies and other health stuff. As much as I wanted that scene to be an inspiration for me to reach my dreams of being a doctor, I now think that the sadness and the realization that life is short somehow contributed to my first failure in medical school.
Earlier today, we were learning about caring for older people. In closing his lecture, our teacher read an article from The New York Times entitled One Last Visit to See My Patient. Written by Dr. Danielle Ofri, it was an essay talking about how she encountered the death of one of her patients. Coincidentally, her essay features the story of her Filipino patient, which made it even more relatable. You can read the article here.
Basically, the essay aims to advocate early hospice care for patients in contrast with the current practice of only suggesting it to patients who are expected to live for less than six months. The essay cites a study to prove that early palliative care actually improves life expectancy. As for the case of her patient, she was able to extend her life for 18 months.
Dr. Ofri’s patient has everything that she needed. She was well supported by her children, giving her the best healthcare in New York, unlike most of the geriatric patients here in the country who do not have the opportunity to be seen by that caliber of a doctor. The patient was given all the comforts on the day of her death where Dr. Ofri realized that she “had won the lottery. She’d lived a long and happy life with a loving extended family in two countries. Her final days were being spent on her own couch, among her plants and family, her favorite TV shows and music.”
As our teacher was reading the essay, I felt tears welling up in my eyes. I wanted to cry and again feel the sadness of losing my grandmother. She did not die like Dr. Ofri’s patient. She was not on a couch. She was not surrounded by plants. She cannot even see well. She cannot hear well.
Instead, I remember her on that hospital bed, stationary and weak, connected with different tubes, with a plethora of intravenous fluids hanging by her side. She was constantly comforted by my aunt in the midst of her grueling pleas to ease her pain. She was jaundiced and teary-eyed, and she whispered to my ear, asking for prayers so that she may come home.
She was not surrounded by her children, and only one was there. She did not have a personal doctor to assist her in the last moments of her life. We did not know if she still wanted to live. We did not know if she wanted to go. She already lost much of her cognitive function, and there was no means to ask her what she wanted. The only thing that I know is that the physician informed my aunt that resuscitate will be futile. Then, all tubes and life-supporting apparatuses were removed. My grandmother left this world peacefully.
Yes, she did not suffer when she died, and as a Christian, I know she met her Creator with open arms. But after hearing the essay, I know she was not able to leave her life in a dignified way. In part, I instantly envied Dr. Ofri’s patient. But then, I began to realize that my grandma will not be the only one in this country that will be deprived of a dignified death. And then I wept some more, albeit deep inside.
Even though I felt sad remembering about my loss, I can’t help but ask myself when I will be able to come to terms with this feeling. I am still living in denial that my loved ones could leave me behind. I still feel that I am not ready to face that moment in my life yet. But the article left me thinking about the dignity in death.
Dr. Ofri was able to express the polarity of the feelings associated with death. She said that while we commonly think about sadness when someone dies, she realized that her patient might have experience joy during her last hours. If only everyone could experience the kind of dignified death as that patient had.
Like Dr. Ofri, I do think, “I hope we all have that chance.”