Four Questions We Ask When Faced With Our Mortality

* What happens as you are dying?

There are just two ways to die, either gradually or quickly. Gradual death has a process to it that unfolds over a period of several months. In the months before death from disease a person is who they have always been, maybe sicker, but their personality does not change. In the weeks before death life becomes more like a dream. We are asleep most of the time. We are also withdrawn, not interested in what is going on around us. As death gets closer and closer we drift further and further away until we don’t even respond to anything that is happening around us. Most of us will sleep through our dying experience.

* How long will it be?

We cannot put a number on how long our last experience will be. No one, doctors included, can be so specific as to say 6 months, 3 weeks or 24 hours. The closest anyone can come to determining how long someone has to live is months, weeks, days, and hours. There are dynamics that enter into the length of our dying process. One aspect is that we have limited control over the time that we die. It is unconscious control but there nevertheless. Important to know-- the day that you die you won’t ask about dying, think about dying, or even care that today is the day.

* Is there going to be pain when I die?

Not necessarily. Dying is not painful. Disease causes pain. If pain is part of the disease process then with all the medications available today we can treat the pain and keep you comfortable. There are a lot of diseases that people die from that do not cause pain. If pain is not part of the disease process then you will not have pain just because death is approaching. The body generally feels heavy, tired, and achey but not with specific pain.

* What really happens when we are dead?

That question is one of the biggest fears we bring to this final life experience. What happens to the “me” I know to be me? Some of us have religious or spiritual beliefs, others of us do not. Know that no matter our ideas and thoughts about life and after life there will be some degree of apprehension as we face this final challenge. That apprehension and even fear has nothing to do with our belief in God, or not believing in God. The fear and apprehension that we will bring to this final experience is the result of our being human and facing the unknown.

Something More about Four Questions...

For more in depth information, read my book The Final Act of Living. It is a comprehensive look at the dying experience. Dynamics of approaching death to hospitalization fear to making a living will and appointing a durable power of attorney are covered.

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1 comment


Thank you for these very real and difficult conversations. Both of my parents have passed on from cancer. It was a terrible slow process with pain. By reading your explanations and thoughts on death and dying. It makes sense and has given my heart some peace. I enjoy reading your articles. Thank you

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