Death, natural, ideal, home

An Ideal Death

An Ideal Death

© 2012 Dr. Dale Peterson &

Having been a physician for over forty years I am no stranger to death. I have encountered and dealt with it on many occasions both professionally and personally over the years. I know that death comes in many forms. For some it comes suddenly and unexpectedly as in the case of a violent accident or a heart attack. For others it comes slowly and agonizingly as in the case of widespread cancer or a degenerative process such as Lou Gehrig’s disease. In our society it often occurs in a hospital amid IV tubes, beeping monitors, and draining catheters. Few deaths are what might be considered ideal.

I had the privilege of attending an ideal death recently, that of my 85 year-old mother. It is somewhat amazing that a life-long asthmatic who was prone to frequent bouts of pneumonia lived as long as she did.

Her health had been declining for several years. She had never been a large woman, but by the end her weight had fallen to approximately 70 pounds as she lost all body fat and much of her muscle mass. She had developed advanced chronic obstructive pulmonary disease that left her chronically short of breath and in need of supplemental oxygen day and night. Her spine had collapsed due to osteoporosis and this further restricted her breathing. She often experienced arthritis pain.

One day in mid-May she told one of my sisters that she wanted to go home. Thinking that she wanted to move back to the farm on which she had lived for sixty years before moving into an apartment my sister assured her that she was home, that she lived in town now.

“I don’t mean this home,” my mother had responded, “I mean Heaven!”

A week later her condition took a dramatic downward turn. She had difficulty speaking and when the words came she said, “I think I’m dying.” She was right. She insisted that she did not want to be taken to the hospital. Thankfully, she had prepared an advanced directive indicating that when her death was imminent she wanted no extraordinary measures or administration of intravenous fluids.

She rallied and had several lucent spells over the course of that day and the next during which she was able to visit with and say goodbye to her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. On Friday evening she went peacefully to sleep. She didn’t wake up on Saturday. She took her last breath at 9:02 Saturday evening as I sat by her side. I said one last goodbye and felt her pulse stop a few minutes later.

Few of us will have the opportunity to choose the time and manner of our death. It is comforting to know, however, that even in our highly medicalized society some are able to pass peacefully from this life in the comfort of their homes and in the presence of those they love.

With my mother’s passing there is another void in the world as I know it. My siblings and I along with our spouses, children, and grandchildren do not mourn as those who have no hope. We know that to be absent from the decaying earthly body is to be present with the Lord. We know that our mother has been reunited with our father who left us 33 years ago and that each of us will see them again when we too shed our physical bodies and soar to new heights. I hope that when that time comes our deaths will be as ideal as that of my mother and I wish the same for you.

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