Facing the Final Mystery is written by Laura Larsen, a registered nurse with over 30 years experience in nursing. Many of us don’t know what to do when a loved one is dying. Laura’s book guides us through the last journey with a steady hand.
What I liked most about the book
Laura describes how her personal friend Anna was dying from cancer and chose to live her final days at home. I never realised death could be this beautiful.
“A hospital bed was set up in the den where Anna could look out to her garden. For the next five days there was always someone sitting at Anna’s side. Holding her hand, ready to help adjust her position, give her ice chips, clean her mouth and just be with her.
The last night of her life, Anna opened her eyes to see her mother at her side. “Ok Mom, tell me what’s gonna happen.” “You mean where you’ll be going?” “Yes, Mom.”
Her mother quoted bible scriptures that were familiar to them both. She told her they would be together again, and that Anna would never leave her heart. Anna smiled and closed her eyes. She stopped breathing peacefully at 4am, with her husband at her side and both of her parents in the room.
Anna’s mother and Ginger bathed her and dressed her in a beautiful gown, sprinkled rose petals across the bed and put soft music on the CD player. As the daylight grew, Anna’s husband called the rest of the family and a few friends. It was a spiritual experience, instead of a medical one. I am grateful.”
We can choose our dying
Barring sudden accidents or other unforeseen events, we may be able to choose when we go. This is such a great opportunity to leave this life on our own terms. Laura describes how this can happen.
“A month before his hundredth birthday, he said “I think I won’t eat anymore.” He never took solid food again. He deliberately and purposefully chose the time and the way of his leaving. It was to be methodical and conscious. He would cast off his body by fasting. Death by fasting is not a violent form of suicide. It is a slow gentle diminution of energies, a peaceful way to leave, voluntarily. Externally and internally he was prepared.”
Laura goes on to explain that once appetite and thirst have subsided, withholding nourishment does not increase discomfort and may allow someone who is seriously ill to let go. Learning this helps family members support the dying process.
Practical tips for facing the final mystery
- You don’t have to say anything, just be there.
- Allow the bereaved to speak often of the memories of their loved one.
- Acknowledge there was a death rather than pretending all is as it was before.
- Offer simple decisions such as “I am having soup at six tonight. Will you join us?”
- Allow tears, yours and theirs, when you visit.
- It helps when we use the real words – ‘dying’ and ‘death’ – rather than euphemisms such as passed away, which only increase the denial of what is really happening.
When children die
Watching children die is one of the most heart-wrenching agonies in the world. We feel helpless to protect them from the pain and loss of life. So we try to protect them in other ways, like refusing to acknowledge that they are dying. Here is what Laura says about it.
“The comfort care provided for adults is less likely to be provided for children because no one wants to give up hope. Often the children sense they will die and try to talk about it, only to be hushed by parents and caregivers. Lifting the taboo of discussing dying and death may also help ease the suffering of children who are dying.”
How the dying can teach us how to live
Decades of working with the dying led to some observations by Laura and others that can help us to live better lives now.
“They are sorry to have neglected spiritual growth, to have avoided joy, to have worked too long and too hard, to not have explored specific interests or knowledge, or to have stayed too long in difficult relationships.” – Stephen Levine, “A Year to Live”
“The most important aspects reported by almost everyone who had a Near Death Experience are the strong needs to live their lives in a completely new way, to do good for others, to follow their dreams, and to release the fear of death.”
– Laura Larsen
Facing the final mystery can teach us how to live
The book covers much more, including practical aspects of dying like palliative and hospice care, financial documents and advance directives, care-giving and collaborative housing, dealing with suicide, coping mechanisms and so much more.
Get the book Facing the Final Mystery: A Guide to Discussing End-of-Life Issues as it is, literally, a matter of life and death. Get your family to read it and start talking about death today, so that you are all ready to face the final mystery not as something to be feared, but as an opportunity for great love and beauty.
“Facing and embracing the final mystery – that we will suffer and we will die – leads us to the real meaning of our life.”
– Laura Larsen