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Esther Tyson: Preparing for end of life

Published:Sunday | July 5, 2015 | 12:00 AM

I recently read a column by Ellen Goodman published in The New York Times titled 'How to talk about dying'. It caught my attention because this is a matter that I think many of us who have been born in what is called the baby-boomer generation need to begin thinking about.

As one person commenting on the article said: "No one likes to think about their mortality until we are forced to face it. It is an unfortunate truth about the human condition that even though everyone will die, eventually no one wants to talk about it."

We live with death all around us in Jamaica since we are a country with a high murder rate. Therefore, the extent of our lives is uncertain. When you couple that stark reality with the pervasiveness of cancer, which seems to be taking the lives of many persons in their 40s-60s, you realise that we need to face the strong possibility that we may die before we reach the much-heralded 'three score years and ten'. Yet many of us refuse to talk about the matter.

First of all, there are some people who are so afraid of the issue of preparing for death that they refuse to think about buying life insurance, which would provide some support for their families after their death or that would cover the cost of a funeral.

There are some of us who superstitiously believe that if we wrote a will, something would happen to shorten our lives. We, therefore, continue in this belief and leave our loved ones to face the confusion that comes in the aftermath of our passing because we have not written a will. The State, then, has the responsibility of dealing with the estate of the departed one. This is usually a long, painful process, with families left bereft not only emotionally but also, in some cases, financially.

Second, there is another group of persons, Christians, who believe in supernatural healing , who, when they are ill, do not speak to their loved ones about preparing for death because they feel that to do so would expose a lack of faith. In taking this approach, some persons have deprived their ill loved ones of the benefit of spending their last days reflecting with their family, preparing for the future without them, speaking words of comfort to the dying one, and preparing for their passing.

church help

As a church community, we need to help persons prepare for death. After all, as Christians, we believe, as Paul the Apostle said, that we "would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord" (2 Cor 5:8). Death, for us as Christians, is the gateway into the presence of Jesus Christ. We believe that we will be resurrected into a new body that will be able to do marvellous things. Why should we then fear death? Instead, we should be comfortable in making preparations for our homegoing.

There are some suggestions that Ellen Goodman makes on preparing for the end of life, along with pointers from what is called the Starter Conversation Kit that I would like to share with you. First of all, Ms Goodman made the following point: "The difference between a good death and a hard death often seemed to hinge essentially on whether someone's wishes were expressed and respected. Whether they'd had a conversation about how they wanted to live toward the end."

Some of these pointers are:

1. Think about what you want for end-of-life care.

2. How involved do you want your loved ones to be in making decisions about your medical care?

3. Who do you want to be involved with your care?

4. Who should speak for you - children, siblings, doctors?

5. Are there any disagreements or family tension that you are concerned about?

6. Where do you want or not want to receive care (home, nursing facility, hospital?)

7. What kinds of aggressive treatment would you want (or not want)? (Resuscitation if your heart stops, breathing machine, feeding tube)

8. What affairs do you need to get in order or talk to your loved ones about? (Personal relationships, property, finances)


Let us, therefore, think about the heritage that we are leaving for our families and our loved ones. Let us do what is necessary to make the aftermath of our death less stressful than it would be when we do not prepare.

I want to honour the homegoing of a stalwart of Jamaica and the church in Jamaica, Patrick Smith. Patrick lost his battle to cancer in the last month. His life has impacted so many persons who knew him. He was a Christian who lived his life to please God and to help others. Patrick was a family man who cared deeply for his family.

I honour Patrick's wife, Heather, who stood by her husband steadfastly and lovingly as he battled cancer. Patrick was a man of integrity and compassion who strove for excellence in all his endeavours. Of even greater importance to Patrick than his secular life was his involvement in the Christian community as a deacon in his church, working with the youth and heading various ministries.

I know that he is in a better place.

- Esther Tyson is an educator. Email feedback to and