Thursday, December 19, 2013

Irrational Fears of Death and Dying

Fear. It's the biggest thing holding someone back from their goals, dreams and desires. For some it's a fear of being disliked, of not being good enough or being too much. When it comes to the end of life, it could be a fear of initiating an important conversation.

On the first few interviews I went on with Arbor Hospice patients and families, I hesitated when it came time to ask the patient or family member about the illness and how it felt to be introduced to Arbor Hospice.

Our culture is uneducated and uncomfortable when it comes to death, and I was falling into the trap. I was afraid to ask almost as if I would be cursing myself or those around me by talking about death and dying, or invoke painful memories.

I was quite naive in those interviews with patients and families. They had clearly already begun thinking about the end of life and had chosen comfort care, maximizing the days that were left. They knew why I was there and were willing to share their story.

I had nothing to fear. Time and again, I've heard from patients and families how having important advance care planning conversations led them to Arbor Hospice or ensured their wishes were followed. I've heard patients tell me how wonderful it was to be able to focus on what's most important to them.

Many aren't so lucky. Research shows that most people want to die at home, without pain surrounded by loved ones. Nearly 60 percent do not have this experience. Only 30 percent of Americans have an advance directive, and I am not one of them. I justify this by saying I'm only 24, but I know that's not an excuse.

To be honest, I'm not even sure my parents have a written advance directive. I haven't taken the time to find out or initiate a conversation. I'm afraid they'll think I'm pushing them out the door.

But I refuse to let fear stand in my way. I know my fear is probably irrational - just like many of my fears. I want to honor my parents' wishes when their end of life comes, hopefully many years from now. And I hope they'll be proud and grateful that I asked them "what's most important" and how they want to be cared for at the end of life.

I'm facing my fears - one at a time. I encourage you to do the same.

This blog entry was written by Jaclyn Klein, Communications Specialist with Arbor Hospice. You may contact Jaclyn by commenting below or emailing her at

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