Most people, if they had their choice, would want to be in their home with family and the dog or cat on the bed when they die. YET, most people die in a hospital or nursing facility without the dog or cat, and maybe even without family present.
In the hospital, if a person doesn’t have a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) order they will not be allowed to die naturally. The body will be attached to machines to keep it breathing, and when their heart stops, the medical staff will try to restart it, generally to no avail. Without a DNR order, death will not come gently and only hospital staff will be present.
If there is a DNR order in place and you are in the hospital you will probably be moved to the end of the hall to quietly die. Hopefully there will be a family present, but probably you will be alone - and there certainly will not be a dog or cat on the bed.
In a nursing facility, if you do not have a DNR, you will be sent to the hospital when you begin having difficulty. If you do have a DNR, then let’s hope the staff has training in end of life care and/or has a relationship with a hospice to guide care.
Now back to home with the dog and cat on the bed. We don’t have any role models on what it is like to die — and people don’t die like they do in the movies. Caring for someone at home as the end of life approaches can be scary, overwhelming, tiring, and frustrating. YET it can also be meaningful, beautiful, fulfilling, and life-altering. Dying at home can be the gift our family gives us BUT they need support, knowledge, and guidance — enter hospice, enter EOL doulas, enter EOL booklets and the EOL course.
The thing about dying at home is that there will be a time when we cannot take care of ourselves. As much as we want to be independent, we will not have the strength or the ability.
We will need someone to take care of us, to provide nourishment while we are still eating, and to give us water while we are still drinking. Someone will need to bathe us, provide skin care, and position our body. These are all things which, as private as we may be, we will eventually be unable to do for ourselves.
Many of us cannot afford to pay for shift help in the home so care we need often falls to the family. The thing about families is most have their own life they are living. Adjustments must be made and ideally support from neighbors, church, and friends is received.
It is not easy taking care of someone as end of life approaches but with support, guidance, and tools, it can be done - and you can even have your dog or cat on the bed.
Something More… about Would You Rather Die At Home Or In The Hospital?
If I could encourage you to do something by the end of the weekend, I would insist that you fill out your advance directives including a living will and a durable power of attorney for health care. Here is a link for you to find the forms for your state: State directory
I also like this workbook by The Death Project Manager: Workbook