UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds
Courtesy of Pixabay


As Canada's largest generation ages, more and more of us are dying each year. Ever since 1992, when ALS sufferer Sue Rodriguez brought medically assisted dying to the Supreme Court, most of the conversation about how to have a good death has been about how to actually die.

Now, Medical Assistance In Dying (MAID) is legal and available. So, there's a new surge of interest in making death not only less painful but good.

In this month's Observer, I wrote about the recent death of Don Grayston (my former professor), who was an Anglican priest who prepared for his death for 40 years. He and others, including the Vancouver-based death planning agency Willow, have pushed the "good death" conversation way beyond MAID and into the realm of spirituality, relationships, values and ritual.

It's needed. As a funeral director I spoke to last year said, "People don't want anything to do with their dead anymore. They treat me like I'm the garbage man, just taking out the trash."  

No one wants that to be their final story.

So, here are five ways to die — with more than just dignity.

1. Die consciously, with care

Who does it? Death doulas, who are trained to advocate for the dying, increasing their physical comfort and helping them talk about death while acting as spiritual guides. Douglas College in British Columbia offers a straight-forward, college-certified death doula program, but others, such as the Conscious Dying Institute, are less constrained and more spiritually oriented.

Why? "I see the transition out of life as having the potential to be just as celebratory as the transition into this world," Toronto death doula Susan Dawson told Global TV in June 2016.

2. Die in charge

Who does it? Willow, through its workshop "Departure Directions." Participants learn how their bodies can be cared for after death and receive help making a plan for rituals and practicalities. It helps to bring peace of mind to the dying, along with their friends and family, especially in the absence of a clear, religious tradition.

Why? "Maybe you've experienced the overwhelming frustration of arranging a good-bye ritual for someone who didn't leave any directions. You've struggled with trying to honour what you think are their wishes and meet the needs of those left behind, including you."

3. Die with fulfilled relationships


Who does it? In 2017, the 20th anniversary of the seminal book Dying Well: The Prospect for Growth at the end of Life was celebrated. Palliative care physician and author Ira Byock advised that the dying — and living — need to hear four things: "Thank you," "I love you," "I forgive you" and "Please forgive me."

Why? "I was death-naive before I read Dr. Ira Byock's book Dying Well when my father was in his early 80s and in his final, painful decline," writes Katy Butler, the author of the 2018 book Knocking on Heaven's Door and A Good End of Life. "It introduced me to the possibility that with appropriate support, dying did not have to be a chaotic, fear-ridden and painful experience. In fact, families could be well-supported and death could even be meaningful."

4. Die broke

Who does it?
 Some philanthropists and foundations choose to give away their money while they're still living so that they can celebrate it being used. Some individuals choose to give inheritances to their heirs while they're still living so that they can offer guidance.

Why? "Benefactors who choose to 'give while living’ discover that it gives them an opportunity to share their long-term vision with heirs and to witness how their heirs handle the assets," the Royal Bank of Canada advises. "Beneficiaries, meanwhile, can learn to manage the wealth and become comfortable with an inheritance while consulting with their benefactors, putting everyone in a better position to preserve family wealth for the future." There are also tax advantages to giving while living, the bank notes.

5. Start dying early

Who does it? Anglican priest Don Grayston started thinking about his own death back while in his 30s. That is, he learned about dying from his aging congregants, figured out that it was going to happen to him and started living in ways that would help him become the old, wise man he wanted to be: in community with friends. In a congregation, this is a no-brainer, as all generations from infants to the elderly sit together each week. But outside of church, tight, multigenerational communities are rare.

Why? Obviously, to prepare yourself for your inevitable death, as Willow's guides might say. But also, The Guardian tells us that death is cool. Everyone is doing it. Even hipsters. So get with it. 



Author's photo
Pieta Woolley is a writer in Powell River, B.C.
December 2017

Five New Year’s resolutions for the end times

By Pieta Woolley

November 2017

Five women who said the ‘wrong thing’ post-Weinstein

By Pieta Woolley

November 2017

Five artists who rose to the Donald Trump challenge — nearly one year into his U.S. presidency

By Pieta Woolley

October 2017

Five reasons why Halloween has become North America's biggest spiritual celebration

By Pieta Woolley

October 2017

Five celebrity-led movements that are changing the way stars do activism

By Pieta Woolley

September 2017

Five animated shows that reveal the future of men

By Pieta Woolley

September 2017

Five wildfires that should alarm us

By Pieta Woolley

July 2017

Travelling this summer? Learn how to say a First Nations ‘hello’ in these five vacation hot spots

By Pieta Woolley

June 2017

Five highly questionable marketing tips for churches hoping to attract spiritual-but-not-religious types

By Pieta Woolley

June 2017

Five kinds of environmentalists: which one are you?

By Pieta Woolley

May 2017

Five countries that can school us on tense national holidays

By Pieta Woolley

May 2017

Three times America led the world in famine relief — and twice it did not

By Pieta Woolley

April 2017

Five holy craft beers for our turbulent times

By Pieta Woolley

April 2017

Five predictions for your grandchildren

By Pieta Woolley

March 2017

Five modern distractions that are leading us to our doom

By Pieta Woolley

March 2017

Five hipster teachings for a fresh Lenten practice

By Pieta Woolley

February 2017

Five governments that have imposed contracts on their workers

By Pieta Woolley

February 2017

Five intergalactic ambitions humans probably shouldn’t be trusted with

By Pieta Woolley

January 2017

The five kinds of small towns that want you to abandon your city

By Pieta Woolley

January 2017

Five foods you’d think we could produce enough of in Canada

By Pieta Woolley

December 2016

Five conundrums about the coming pipeline war

By Pieta Woolley

November 2016

Five scientific reasons to let Christmas 2016 jingle all the way

By Pieta Woolley

November 2016

Five awkward ways the 2016 U.S. election was not like 'Les Miserables'

By Pieta Woolley

October 2016

Five reasons why we don’t do family road trips anymore

By Pieta Woolley

October 2016

Five contentious ways Canada could be doing more for Syria

By Pieta Woolley

September 2016

Five radically pro-LGBT worshipping communities aligned with conservative faiths

By Pieta Woolley

September 2016

Five things women better not to wear, or else

By Pieta Woolley

August 2016

Five reasons to fear that the death penalty isn’t, well, dead

By Pieta Woolley

August 2016

Five times the Olympics has fulfilled its ‘peace and dignity’ potential

By Pieta Woolley

Announcement

New Observer editor and CEO, Jocelyn Bell. Photo by Lindsay Palmer

New editor named

by Observer Staff

Promotional Image

Editorials

Jocelyn Bell%

Observations

by Jocelyn Bell

We’ll miss you, David Wilson

Promotional Image

Video

ObserverDocs: My Year of Living Spiritually

by Observer Staff

Anne Bokma left the Dutch Reformed Church as a young adult and eventually became a member of the United Church and then the Unitarian Universalists. Having long explored the "spiritual but not religious" demographic as a writer, she decided to immerse herself in practices — like hiring a soul coach, secular choir-singing and forest bathing — for 12 months to find both enlightenment and entertainment.

Promotional Image

Society

November 2017

Trump country

by David Macfarlane

A northern Alabama county voted almost unanimously for Donald Trump in 2016. One year later, the writer, together with photographer Nigel Dickson, travels there to try to understand why.

Faith

November 2017

Involuntary pilgrim

by David Giuliano

The return of a tumour sets David Giuliano on a path he calls his ‘Camino de Cancer’

Faith

October 2017

A tale of two cancers

by Catherine Gordon

One year after the writer discovered she had breast cancer, her sister in California received the same diagnosis. They both recovered, but their experiences were worlds apart.

Society

November 2017

Trump country

by David Macfarlane

A northern Alabama county voted almost unanimously for Donald Trump in 2016. One year later, the writer, together with photographer Nigel Dickson, travels there to try to understand why.

Faith

November 2017

Involuntary pilgrim

by David Giuliano

The return of a tumour sets David Giuliano on a path he calls his ‘Camino de Cancer’

Faith

November 2017

Grey matter

by Trisha Elliott

Is consciousness just a function of the brain — or something more?

Promotional Image