A Life to Die For

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Recommendation 2 : Start by completing your own paperwork now for the end of life, such as a living will, estate plan, and funeral plan. Think through the options for care that might be available to you and formulate your own opinions—what is important to you? What are your wishes for your last days on earth? During a healthcare crisis many patients are unable to speak up for themselves about their end-of-life choices. In my experience, uninformed family members are more likely to defer to medical providers when end-of-life decisions must be made and are also likely to experience guilt and conflict with one another over those decisions.

The more you talk about it the more you will create peace for yourself and for your loved ones when the time comes.


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Since they had never learned how to be at peace with the circumstances of life, when death is near they remain angry and inconsolable. Recommendation 4 : The antidote to this type of misery is to learn to find happiness within yourself long before life reaches its end. Many of my dying patients have been ravaged by feelings of guilt and remorse over events of the past.

They either have felt a deep need to make amends for some previous action of their own or they have been burning inside with resentment toward another person. Those who have not found their way to forgiveness have remained in this painful state of guilt and blame until their last breath. Recommendation 5 : It is never too early to start working on letting go of old wounds so that you can avoid the overwhelming negativity of resentment at the end of life.

Develop your own daily practice of forgiveness and you will find much more peace in your life now, as well as during your last days. When they ultimately had to face the fact that they were going to die anyway they felt cheated and betrayed.

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They had fallen for a false belief that their healthy habits would somehow entitle them to avoid death. Develop a practice of thinking about death as a necessary part of the life cycle and something not to be feared, but to be respected. Journaling, prayer and meditation can be helpful tools as long as they focus on the reality of death and are not serving as bargaining chips in a futile attempt to avoid death. Those patients who have avoided thinking about death generally have also not taken time to educate themselves about their own health issues.

Without knowledge and information as a tool to guide decisions, they are disempowered when they must engage with the medical system. Recommendation 7 : While doctors are well-educated about disease and treatment modalities, they know very little about you, your life path and what options might be best for you.

When you receive a chronic or terminal diagnosis it is your responsibility to learn as much as you can about your options by asking questions, reading and studying, and requesting second opinions. Being consciously aware of your mortality, working on your past issues, making plans and completing paperwork for the end of life, communicating with loved ones, and empowering yourself with knowledge are all important steps toward an end of life that offers comfort rather than chaos.

But it requires work and dedication on your part to prepare now for what will be coming in the future.

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But these are issues that may be addressed by finding support from hospice or palliative care workers, if that type of care is available and reliable in the community, though there are reports that hospice staffs are stretched too thin in some areas and care at times falls short of what it should be. But you can improve your own chances of getting good end-of-life care by doing your own inner work, becoming an advocate for hospice and palliative care in your community, holding those organizations accountable to best-practice standards, and supporting causes that help people find peace in their lives.

US Edition U. News U. Researchers like Solomon ultimately hope that, by becoming aware of the expansive negative effects that death anxiety triggers, we might be able to counteract them. Buddhist monks in South Korea, for example, do not respond this way to reminders of death. View image of Buddhist monks do not have the typical self-defensive reactions to reminders of death. In that case, people become more altruistic — willing, for example, to donate blood regardless of whether there is a high societal need for it.

They are also more open to reflecting on the roles of both positive and negative events in shaping their lives. Given these findings, learning our death date may lead us to focus more on life goals and social bonds rather than responding with knee-jerk insularity. View image of A memento mori can promote altruistic behaviours like giving blood. Regardless of whether society as a whole takes a nasty or nice turn, how we would react on an individual level to knowledge about our death would vary depending on personality and the specifics of the big event.

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Whether life ends at 13 or , though, studies of terminally ill individuals can shed light on typical responses to death. Palliative care patients, Feudtner says, often experience two phases of thinking. After that, they contemplate how to make the most of the time they have left. Most fall into one of two categories. They either decide to put their whole energy and focus into doing everything they can to beat the illness, or they opt to reflect on their lives and spend as much time as possible with loved ones doing things that bring them happiness.

View image of People would probably decide to do things they enjoy rather than fight their death date. The same processes would likely play out under the hypothetical death date scenario. Those who opt to try to thwart their deaths may become obsessed with avoiding it, especially as time runs out. Someone who knows they are destined to drown might incessantly practice swimming so they can have a fighting chance at survival, for example, while someone who knows they will die in a traffic accident may choose to avoid vehicles at all costs.

Others, however, may go the opposite route — trying to cheat their predicted death by attempting to end their lives on their own terms. This would allow them, in a way, to gain control over the process. Jonas and her colleagues found , for example, that when they asked people to imagine that they will suffer a painful, slow death from an illness, those who were given the choice of a self-determined death — to end their life in a way of their choosing — felt more in control and exhibited fewer defensive biases related to death anxiety.

View image of Some people might react by pushing themselves to greater creative heights. Those who go the route of accepting their death sentences may likewise react in a variety of ways. Some would be energised to make the most of the time they have, rising to greater heights of creative, social, scientific and entrepreneurial achievement than otherwise would have been possible. Indeed, there is promising evidence from trauma survivors that having a sense of the limited time we have left can motivate self-improvement.

While difficult to collect baseline data for such people, many insist that they have changed in profound, positive ways.

View image of Survivors of traumatic events sometimes report greater resilience. Not everyone would become their best selves, however. Instead, many people probably would choose to check out of life and cease to contribute meaningfully to society — not necessarily because they are lazy, but because they are overtaken by a feeling of pointlessness. Feelings of pointlessness may also cause many people to give up any semblance of a healthy lifestyle.

View image of A recognition of our own mortality can trigger nihilistic behaviours like smoking. New social rituals and routines might emerge, with death dates perhaps celebrated like birthdays.

Practically speaking, no matter where we lived in the world, our day-to-day life would fundamentally change as a result of learning when and how we were due to die. Many more people might attend therapy, which would develop specialised death-related sub-fields. New social rituals and routines might emerge, with death dates perhaps celebrated like birthdays, but counted down instead of up.


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View image of Religions would be shaken to the core. And existing religions would be shaken to the core. Cults could spring up in the spiritual wake left behind.

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Make offerings to the system? Give away our virginal daughters? Relationships would almost certainly be affected as well. Similarly, if it were possible to determine a death date from a biological sample, some parents may decide to abort fetuses doomed to die young to avoid the pain of losing their child. Others — knowing that they themselves will not survive past a certain age — may opt to not have children at all, or else do the opposite, having as many children as quickly as possible.


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