‘Why I filmed a man take his final breath’

Steven Eastwood [L] was invited by Alan to film him as he died
By Helen Bushby

The old man lies in the hospital bed, drawing his last, rattling breath as he fades away from life.

The film camera, positioned just next to him, keeps rolling. We see the nurses move him to another room before they gently clean his body.

“Nobody wants to die but it’s a natural thing, we are biologically determined to die,” says documentary maker Steven Eastwood.

His film, Island, lays bare the dying process by filming four people with terminal illnesses.

Roy’s end of life care was tenderly shown

“Death is seen as a shameful thing – we think we’re a progressive society, but we repress and deny death,” Steven says.

“We’re no better than the Victorians.”

He was a quiet onlooker during the last year of his subjects’ lives, filming them in their homes before they became part of the daily rhythms of life in a hospice.

“To say you don’t want it to happen, you’re putting off facing something,” he says.

Mary talked a lot about her medical treatment during the film

“We need better death awareness to be more familiar with our mortality. I don’t think that’s ghoulish.”

The documentary came about after Fabrica, a gallery in Brighton, commissioned a film about end of life.

The London-based film-maker’s proposal was accepted, and he managed to get access to film in a hospice on the Isle of Wight.

He speaks fondly of his time there, saying: “These are four people I really cared about – Alan, Roy, Mary and Jamie; three were in their 80s and one was in his 40s.”

Steven regularly made the five-hour journey to the hospice, including the boat trip to the island, which features in the slow, often hypnotic imagery of the documentary and its trailer.

He made the film after having “two quite significant bereavements – my mother-in-law and my best friend, who was the same age as me.

“So I realised I didn’t know very much about what palliative care is.”

Steven thinks we need to face the reality of death, make it part of our daily existence, so it’s less frightening.

The Isle of Wight’s scenery makes up many of the film’s quiet moments

“I think we all have an existential fear – ‘if I see someone I love who’s died, it’ll be too traumatic, it’ll replace all the images I have of them, I’ll never be able to unsee it, somehow it’ll hurt me’.

“But for me it isn’t the case, being with someone after dying, with that intimacy. I found it quite empowering and peaceful.”

He has huge admiration for the people who work in hospices, and hopes his film can “celebrate and show what palliative care is”.

“The most radical, extraordinary people in our society are the least visible,” he says.

“They’re the carers. And the care we receive at the end of our lives is extraordinary.

Steven Eastwood admires nurses working in palliative care, such as the one pictured with Alan

“These hospices which people have anxiety about going into – they’re not morbid, sterile spaces, they’re places of life.”

He says that after one of the screenings of Island, a stranger approached him, saying it had made him “less afraid of dying”.

Steven adds: “It’s not an ambition of mine, but if you can sit through the film and at the end feel uplifted, if you can make some kind of peace with something that will happen to all of us, then that’s a good thing.”

He speaks fondly about all his subjects, talking at length about Alan, whose death we see at the start of the film. Alan died of cancer.

‘He was living to smoke’

“Alan had chain-smoked since he was 16 and he smoked in the hospice with a nurse lighting his cigarette. But he wasn’t dying of a smoking-related cancer.

“This is part of what palliative care is – helping someone smoke until they die.

“The doctors felt that if he hadn’t been smoking he would have died several weeks earlier – he was living to smoke.”

Alan invited him to film his last moments.

The film shows many poignant moments

“The second time I met Alan, we had a connection, he said, ‘I think you’d like to stay with me all the way through and I think that would be great’.

“He wanted to do something radical with his death, he felt quite radical about his life.

“He believed our tissue is just a vehicle and we translate into something else.

“As far as he was concerned, there was no self-consciousness around his image, he thought participating was a way of marking something of his philosophy. He became my movie star, he was like my Burt Lancaster.”

Steven recalls watching Alan die.

‘Bliss in his eyes as he died’

“His death was a long, running out of breaths. It was very peaceful and very beautiful and I felt really moved by it. I didn’t feel sad. He was really ready to die.”

Alan told Steven he had seen a man die when he was just 19, during active service in the forces in North Africa. His commanding officer was shot, and died in his arms.

“He held this man and said, ‘I saw bliss in his eyes as he died, and I knew that what we are experiencing now is not it, there’s more’.

“So for him, his death was the thing he’d been waiting for. We can’t all ask for that.”

Steven acknowledges that of course deaths can be sudden or premature, such as Jamie’s.

Jamie was in his 40s when he died

“Jamie had stage 4 stomach cancer and had a young family, his attachment to his daughter was so incredible.

“He wanted to die in the best way he could with his daughter, so he involved her in everything, talked about his treatment, about what it was going to be like when he’s not there.

“He’s the person who I get upset thinking about.”

The film has been used to help medics in handling end of life care, and Steven and his producer are partnered with Sussex NHS trust.

“We’ve run two sessions with trainee doctors, to use the film as a means to talk about how we speak around death and dying, and how we talk to patients.”

He’s also keen to attract a young audience as he says people in their 20s are the “biggest death deniers”.

Steven talks about the pressure to be “productive, youthful, to look good”.

Other cultures, such as Mexico’s, take a more colourful approach to death with Day of the Dead

“This idea that we’re terminal and have an end is too much. I’ve spoken to young people who think about their late life and say, ‘oh I just want to take a pill to end it, when I’m no longer viable I switch myself off’.

“I do think it’s challenging to confront your own mortality.”

Steven, who also volunteers at his local hospice, thinks other cultures handle death better than we do, saying in Ireland “you see a more sustained grieving process and more familiarity being around the body”.

He also talks about Latin America and Asia, where they have “a completely different attitude towards the dying process”.

Mexico’s Day of the Dead celebrates and remembers family ancestors

“I think we need better education – we are finite, our bodies do decay, and I’ve made my peace with that.

“I hope the film can return us to some extent to our biological bodies, and say yes, everybody will die, most people will die in this way, in their 70s or 80s from either heart disease or cancer, and the care will be extraordinary.

“I don’t find that a burdensome thought. I felt poorly informed, and now I feel better informed by making the film – I hope that it will do that for people.

“We die and we don’t have to turn it into some kind of sanctum, it’s life. And I think Alan showed me that, so yeah, I was very, very fortunate to be invited to film him.”

Complete Article HERE!

In Life’s Last Moments, Open a Window

My hospice patients were dying, but they still longed for fresh air and birdsong.

By Rachel Clarke

A furrowed brow and flailing arms were all we had to go on. The grimacing, the way the patient flung his head from side to side — all of it signified an unvoiced anguish. We tried talking, listening, morphine. His agitation only grew.

All cancers have the power to ravage a body, but each assails in distinctive ways. One of the particular cruelties of a cancer of the tongue is its capacity to deprive a person of speech.

Some of us thought he must be suffering from terminal agitation, a state of heightened anxiety that sometimes develops as the end of life draws near. But the junior doctor on the team, Nicholas, was convinced that we could unlock the source of our patient’s distress and volunteered to stay behind in the room.

Nicholas reappeared about an hour later. “You can understand his speech,” he announced. “You just have to really listen.”

When I re-entered the room, the reclining chair that the patient — a tall, angular man in his 80s — had been thrashing around in had been turned to face out onto the garden and the double doors were open wide. Now he sat calmly, transfixed by the trees and sky. All he had wanted was that view.

For a decade, I have worked as a doctor in Britain’s National Health Service. We are an overstretched, underfunded health service in which too few doctors and nurses labor with too few resources, struggling to deliver good care. Burnout among staff is endemic, so much so that it threatens to stifle the kindness and compassion that should be the bedrock of medicine.

But then there are the moments when helping someone is easy: Just nature is enough.

Before I specialized in palliative care, I thought the sheer vitality of nature might be an affront to patients so close to the end of life — a kind of impudent abundance. And yet, in the hospice where I work, I am often struck by the intense solace some patients find in the natural world.

I met Diane Finch, a patient, in May, on the day her oncologist broke the devastating news that further palliative chemotherapy was no longer an option. She was 51. From that point on, her terminal breast cancer would run its natural course, medicine powerless to arrest it.

“My first thought, my urge, was to get up and find an open space,” she told me on that first meeting. “I needed to breathe fresh air, to hear natural noises away from the hospital and its treatment rooms.”

At first she fought to preserve herself digitally, documenting every thought and feeling on her computer before they, and she, were lost forever. But one day, as she was typing frantically, she heard a bird singing through her open window.

“When you come to the end of your life, you get the sense that you don’t want to lose yourself, you want to be able to pass something on,” she told me later. “When I had whole brain radiotherapy, I felt as though something had dropped out, as if everything I said needed to be saved. It was all running away from me.

“Somehow, when I listened to the song of a blackbird in the garden, I found it incredibly calming. It seemed to allay that fear that everything was going to disappear, to be lost forever, because I thought, ‘Well, there will be other blackbirds. Their songs will be pretty similar and it will all be fine.’ And in the same way, there were other people before me with my diagnosis. Other people will have died in the same way I will die. And it’s natural. It’s a natural progression. Cancer is part of nature too, and that is something I have to accept, and learn to live and die with.”

Ms. Finch recorded a song based on the peace she felt listening to the bird song, and it was enough to bring her some relief from what — up to that point — had been almost feverish efforts at self-preservation.

Another patient, whom I admitted in July with about a week to live, was mostly concerned that I keep the windows open, so that he could “keep on feeling the breeze on my face and listening to that blackbird outside.” I rushed to make sure of it.

Shortly before his death from pancreatic cancer at 59, in the 1990s, the British playwright Dennis Potter described the exaltation of looking out at a blossom that had become the “whitest, frothiest, blossomest blossom that there ever could be” from his window.

“Things are both more trivial than they ever were, and more important than they ever were, and the difference between the trivial and the important doesn’t seem to matter. But the nowness of everything is absolutely wondrous,” he told an interviewer.

People often imagine hospices to be dark and dismal places where there is nothing left to experience but dying. But what dominates my work is not proximity to death but the best bits of living. Nowness is everywhere. Nature provides it.

Complete Article HERE!

A dying mother wrote her children letters, leaving a gift of love for years

Before dying of brain cancer at age 56, Jacqueline Zinn wrote letters to each of her children, including daughter Mary Kathryn.

By Steven Petrow

My friend Jacqueline Zinn was diagnosed with glioblastoma, a brain cancer, in 2013; she died 18 months later, at age 56, leaving behind a husband and four kids. Jacquie was a triathlete who knew a thing or two about endurance, and she managed her treatment — surgery, radiation and chemotherapy — with the same skill and organization she had brought to her work as a project manager for a drug company. Once she realized that she had only weeks to live, Jacquie began planning for the next chapter: her death and its aftermath.

And so “every night for weeks she wrote letters to our children,” her husband Doug recalled. Jacquie wrote multiple letters to each child, to be opened at different life milestones. Jacquie wanted to be “present with her kids,” he said, at each of those important moments

for what I jokingly call “The End” is not for faint hearts. War hero John McCain is said to have been disciplined and firm as he planned his funeral over the past year, including the singing of the Irish ballad “Danny Boy.” But few of us have that strength. Recently divorced, I needed to rewrite my will and my medical power of attorney as well as a host of other financial and medical documents. At almost every turn, I found myself crashing head-on into the wall of denial. Just last week, my attorney begged me to acknowledge that I was at least receiving her emails, even if I couldn’t respond to them. “Yes,” I replied, tersely. All this resistance, and I’m not suffering from any terminal condition.

That’s why Jacquie Zinn’s letters to her children seem heroic to me. After all, she did have a terminal diagnosis when she sat down to write what ended up being more than a dozen letters to her children, ranging in age from 11 to 21, and she knew her time was short. I first heard about the letters at her memorial service in 2013. This past spring, working on a book about death and dying, I reached out to her second-born son, Jerry, who was writing about the loss of his mother, to ask if he’d be willing to share his letters from her. He’d already gotten two — one soon after her death and one when he graduated from college — and after some hesitation, he said okay. Now 24, Jerry will get the final letter when he marries.

“The letters my mother left me are among the most precious gifts I possess,” he told me. “She diligently took the time, the very limited time, as her life was coming to an end to sit down and think about her children’s futures.”

So one day, in perfect cursive penmanship and blue ink after her oncologist told her she had only weeks left, Jacquie wrote her first letter to Jerry, then age 19, to be opened after she died. Here is a portion of it:

“Dear Jerry, my budding film-maker,

“I know you have a lot of emotions running through you, as I did when my father died, but I was much older than you at the time, so I really can’t begin to truly comprehend what you are feeling. I am so incredibly sorry that I had to die while you are so young and I assume it sucks for you. Perhaps you can use some of these emotions and feelings in your upcoming work(s), assuming you continue to pursue film.

“Let me assure you that I did absolutely everything I could to stay alive for as long as possible. I know you realize that having been with me at many of my treatments or tests. Plus the acupuncture, tons of praying I also did. But for some reason I just didn’t make it as one of the chosen ones to be cured. But because of what I did I’m sure I lived much longer than if I hadn’t been in good shape to begin with.

“I am incredibly proud of you for everything you have done in your relatively short life. I will be watching over you every day to see what new and exciting things you will accomplish — regardless of what occupations(s) you pursue over your lifetime.

“Do your best to support Dad and your siblings, especially during this first year as it will be the hardest for everyone. I remember that from when my father died. Time will certainly help, but it takes a long time to focus on the happy memories while the sad thoughts are more immediate and closer at hand.

“I had many fantastic years on earth, more than a lot of people, hence, I have no complaints. I survived a melanoma, car accident in the mountains of West Virginia with Uncle Jerry, car accident in Durham. So I have already lived many lives and I was extremely grateful for each and every moment. Try and live your life that way and you will be a happy and fulfilled human being.

“I love more than you will ever know, my dearest Jerry.

“Love, Mom.”

On the day Jerry graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2016, Doug handed over letter No. 2, written with the same pen, on the same type of note paper.

“My sweet dear Jerry,

“Well — this is it — a big milestone in your life — college graduation! Congratulations. I am so incredibly proud of you no matter what your major or minors. I know you made it worthwhile and got just exactly what you wanted to out of the experience. I know you learned an incredible amount about subjects and probably an even greater amount about people.”

Jerry said that at various times during college he had considered dropping out, but “knowing that I would never receive that letter if I did not graduate was a very strong influence in keeping me in school. The letter was a motivation for which I will be forever grateful.” Knowing Jacquie as I did, I’m certain that was part of her master plan.

In the second letter, Jacquie signs off with these words: “I am watching over you all the time, or at least I hope I can do that! Congratulations, again. Enjoy this fabulous day and all the celebrations around. Big Hugs and Kisses! Much Love, Mom.”

What a gift, an eternal gift, I thought as I read and reread the two letters. More than anything, I silently bowed in amazement, understanding how Jacquie had faced her own version of “The End.” Doug reminded me that she’d written her letters while in a wheelchair, paralyzed on one side.

With Jacquie’s example in mind, I finally sat down and read the pile of documents my lawyer had sent to me, realizing that my denial served no purpose. To my surprise, I found comfort in taking care of that necessary business — once done. I’d like to think that was something Jacquie felt, too, as she sent her missives into the future.

Complete Article HERE!

The Death of the ‘Standard Funeral’

Funeral customs are changing dramatically, leaving families with more decisions to make at just the moment they may be least prepared to make them. Making decisions ahead of time honors “ancient wisdom.”

A funeral procession from the early 1900s.

By Steve Willis

Yogi Berra once quipped, “The future ain’t what it used to be.” If there is a time that I see church parishioners facing Yogi’s confused logic, it is when dealing with decision making for a funeral and burial of a loved one. American culture is going through a tumultuous season of cultural change. The last time that people want to deal with more change is during the loss and grief of a loved one’s death. But the reality is that the American funeral experience has changed and is continuing to change dramatically.

When I performed my first funeral in 1993, there was a certain set of expectations for what would happen when someone died. It almost always went like this. Three days after the person died there would be a funeral, or rarer then, a memorial service (a worship service without the body of the deceased). The evening before the funeral there would be a visitation at the funeral home to view the body and share condolences with the family. Usually at 11 a.m. or at 2 p.m. the funeral would take place at the church. Then the family, followed by friends, would drive in procession with headlights on to the cemetery for a brief committal service. After the committal the family returned to the church for a meal and time to visit. On occasion I have been invited to drop by the family home afterwards when all had been finished and there was nothing left to do but sip bourbon and visit.

Yes, this is a very Presbyterian, and a very Southern Presbyterian funeral experience. We value brevity when it comes to funeral worship services, and we value lingering when it comes to visiting afterwards. Of course, there are many variations on a theme played out in different religious traditions, and all of them have their strengths and weaknesses. I admire the African-American Baptist tradition, which has been able to resist many of the negative consumeristic trends involved with funerals, but I do not possess the proclamatory wind to preside for several hours over a funeral service.

Things have certainly changed from when a traditional schedule was the expected norm. There are many reasons for the changes that now often require families to design their own funeral rituals. One of the most significant is that in 1970 only 5% of the American population was cremated after death. Last year 55% chose cremation. The cost of burial with embalming of the body, metal casket and metal vault can run about $11,000, and of course this has been a motivating factor for choosing cremation.

Not too long ago I performed a funeral for the beloved family doctor of his remote rural village. He had made all the arrangements well in advance of his death. Ben was buried in a simple pine box that he had made himself and was interred on a hill at the back of his farm. He had a friend who had prepared his body after death and kept the body refrigerated until his family could see it. The doctor was a keen environmental steward of his farm as well as his community, and he did not wish to add the mixture of formaldehyde, methanol and humectants to the soil of his farm. This makes me wonder what really is traditional after all, because the doctor’s method would have been common place before industrialization and the Civil War. (Check out this website for different state requirements for a funeral at home.)

Ben was on to something. Think about what you would like your funeral to be. Talk to others about it. Don’t get scared off by our American cultural reluctance to have a conversation about death. Do you want to be cremated or embalmed? There are other options now to cremation than burning the body; it can also be done with water. Do you want a religious service to mark the occasion? What will be most helpful for your surviving family? I think that religious services can be deeply moving and genuinely helpful for people. But I should think that. I am a pastor. I know that this is not true for everyone. The point is to think about this beforehand and share with your family what is important to you and make plans for it.

Let me put in a word for funeral home directors. It has been my good fortune to be friends with a couple of them and a golf partner with one of them. I have often heard terribly negative caricatures of funeral home directors, most of the time from people whose only experience has been attending a few funerals. My experience has shown them to be people who pursue their work as a calling. I have watched them at times provide funeral services for poor families with disregard to the business end of their work. If you are interested in learning what a funeral director’s life is like, then read Thomas Lynch’s The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal TradeHe is an American Book Award winner writer and a funeral home director in his small town of Milford, Michigan.

Lynch gives us, who live in what is often a death-denying culture, this sober reminder.

This is the central fact of my business – that there is nothing, once you are dead, that can be done to you or for you or with you or about you that will do you any good or any harm; that any damage or decency we do accrues to the living, to whom your death happens, if it really happens to anyone. The living have to live with it. You don’t. Theirs is the grief or gladness your death brings. Theirs is the loss or gain of it. Theirs is the pain and pleasure of memory.

The practical wisdom of these words reminds us that when the time finally comes for you or for me as it will for us all, water cremation, fire cremation, embalming, metal vaults, pine boxes, columnbariums, floral wreaths, funeral homilies, favorite hymns, presented flags and headstones will not matter to us. But some of these things will matter and give meaning to those who survive us.

I realize I’m not making any of this process easier. That’s my point. It’s not easy. And the ever-growing options only make for more complicated decisions. But reflecting upon death and dying and thinking about what our end will be like for others make us better human beings. And that is nothing new at all. That is ancient wisdom. 

Complete Article HERE!

‘Why I won’t be putting off death cleaning’

Is it better to declutter and move to something smaller long before the inevitable happens?

By Rebecca Huntley

Four years ago, a dear friend of the family, ‘Jane’, died of bowel cancer.

Jane had helped me around the house and looked after my first daughter, from the time she was a baby up until she went to school. We kept in touch over the years, and soon after my twins were born, she got the diagnosis.

The last time I saw her she was frail and could barely walk.

Sitting on the couch together in her daughter’s apartment, she took my hand and said, “Everything I have left I am wearing. I’ve got rid of the lot. I don’t want the kids to have to mess around with all my things when I’m gone”.

I was so impressed, not just by Jane’s organisation and foresight (which I knew all about), but by her generosity.

Leaving very few possessions behind was one of the greatest parting gifts she could give to her children.

Since then I’ve been thinking a lot about the things we leave behind when we die.

By ‘things’, I don’t mean the intangibles like the life lessons, memories and enduring love that sustain family and friends. Or the legacy of work done in our professional lives or the unpaid work in the community.

But the actual things. Candlesticks. Sporting trophies. Mugs.

You know, the kind of items that we occasionally wonder might be worth some mind-boggling sum if we ever managed to take them to an Antiques Roadshow. The millions, maybe billions of items, continuously gathering dust in the houses and apartments across the nation.

Of course, it has something to do with my stage of life.

As I head towards 50, I see many of my friends going through the emotionally draining and physically exhausting process of helping a sick or widowed parent pack up and sell a family home.

Friends tell me about the days and nights spent working through boxes and boxes of candlesticks, sporting trophies and mugs with an ailing or grieving parent.

And spending days working out what goes in the bin, gets donated to charity, given away or taken to the next dwelling, which is by necessity a half or a quarter of the size of the home they’re leaving.

“No candlesticks, just memories.”

It’s also a story echoed in the research I do with Australians.

And, on the whole, a story mostly told by daughters and granddaughters. In fact, I’ve found it’s largely these women responsible for this forced decluttering and managing of parents’ affairs at this time of life.

It takes its toll on these women, not just physically and emotionally, but even financially as they have to pull back from work to play this caring role.

It often comes at a time when the daughters are at the tail end of caring for their own children. A time when they thought they might have a chance to increase their paid work, or spend time and energy on personal goals.

Then suddenly, these women have responsibilities to parents almost as demanding as those associated with small children — with all the uncertainty and disruption, and far less of the joy that comes with looking after little ones.

In my role as a social researcher, I’ve met mothers trying to support a child through a final year of school — at the same time as helping a widowed parent find retirement living and pack up and sell their family home.

Death-induced decluttering. At the very moment you should be taking time and energy to grieve, you are knee-deep in cardboard boxes and vintage knick-knacks.

Decluttering is a global trend in affluent countries like Australia, led by a slew of ‘less is more’ advocates like author Marie Kondo and Oprah’s organising guru, Peter Walsh.

There’s Swedish death cleaning, döstädning, which is the practice of mindfully clearing out one’s own possessions during later years.

Not to mention the influential effects of the ABC’s War on Waste and how it’s challenging all of us to be more aware of what we buy and what we toss.

Death cleaning helps those family and friends we leave behind, but it’s emotionally draining and physically exhausting.

They’re all terrific developments. Although I worry that these messages sometimes get framed in terms of ‘good taste’ and ‘shame’.

Is it easier for some of us to declutter than it is for others? Is there a ‘clutter divide’ where the more affluent you are, the easier it is to live with less?

A single wealthy man who can afford a sparsely and elegantly decorated apartment in the centre of the city can certainly make do with fewer things, compared to a larger family living in the suburbs without social and cultural amenities within walking distance.

That said, visiting thousands of houses all over Australia for my work has made me realise many of us are living in homes full of things we find hard to get rid of — that is, until something forces us to.

Downsizing in a crisis (death, financial difficulty, illness) is doubly distressing.

I wonder whether it makes better sense to chuck the stuff and move to something smaller long before the inevitable happens.

If I am lucky enough to die of old age, I know what I want to leave behind. Saying goodbye to Jane on that couch confirmed it for me.

I will shuffle off this mortal coil with nothing left but a silk nightie, some precious paintings on the walls around me, and a handful of photos in my bony hands.

No candlesticks, just memories.

Complete Article HERE!

Why Do We Give Our Pets Death With Dignity but Not Ourselves?

My years as an emergency veterinarian have shown me the relief that assisted death can bring. Why are our pets the main recipients?

By Catherine Ashe

The room is dim and hushed. On the floor before me lies a shaggy bear of a dog. His name is Shep, and he’s some combination of Great Pyrenees and probably German shepherd. His owners, Anne and Rich, adopted him to guard their dairy goats from coyotes, but Shep wasn’t very good at his job and instead became a much loved house dog. I know this because I’ve been taking care of him, as his veterinarian, for his entire life. Now, as he is stretched out before me on the floor, I can see the effects of the cancer that is slowly ending his life.

Shep has osteosarcoma, an aggressive and destructive bone cancer. It starts somewhere in a long bone of the body, silently eating away at the leg until there is nothing left. The leg gives out in a painful and sudden fracture. The cancer then progresses slowly, eventually invading the lungs. Once the cancer is in the lungs, there is nothing left to be done. It is only a matter of days to weeks.

We discovered the cancer when Shep broke his leg. I had a long heart-to-heart with Anne and Rich. The typical treatment is amputation followed by chemotherapy. With that treatment, a good quality of life can be obtained for up to a year or more. There are no guarantees, of course—cancer will do what it wants. Anne and Rich spent two days deliberating the pros and cons, but since Shep was otherwise happy and healthy, they decided to amputate and pursue chemotherapy. He did great as a tripod. Often you had to look twice to notice that he was missing a leg.

That was nine months ago. Now, the chemo has stopped working, and Shep’s lungs are filled with cancer. As he lays on the floor before me, his breathing is labored. Thin, watery blood leaks from his nostrils, and he coughs occasionally. His eyes are dull, no longer the bright, shiny brown that I remember. He doesn’t enthusiastically investigate my hand for treats. His tail doesn’t thump when I softly murmur, “Shep’s a good boy.” The dog I knew isn’t here any longer. His body is a shell.

Anne and Rich are huddled on either side of him, weeping quietly. Anne runs his shaggy fur through her fingers over and over.

“It won’t hurt, right, Dr. Ashe?” she asks me again.

I shake my head gently. “No. I’m going to give him propofol to make him very sleepy, and then I am going to give him the blue injection. It will slowly stop his heart and breathing. He will drift off to sleep and then he will die. He will not feel anything,” I say. I show her the syringes again, even though we’ve already been over this. I use the word die because ambiguity is never good in these situations.

Anne takes a deep breath, looks at Rich, and then nods. It is time.

I place the Shep’s great paw in my lap, check the catheter, and slowly inject propofol. Shep’s breathing deepens, his eyes grow glassy, and his head falls to one side. I give the second injection. His breathing slows. Slows. Slows. And then it stops. Anne gives a strangled cry and lays across his still form. Rich is stoic but tears track slowly down his face. Both are focused on Shep’s body, so they miss what I see—the final gift my patients often give me. As the drugs take hold, I swear I glimpse relief in his brown eyes.

When I was a kid, I remember hearing my parents having whispered conversations about what I interpreted as “youth in Asia.” I’d be half dozing in the backseat of our car, driving through the night, the radio playing, and I would hear their low voices, the urgency with which they discussed it. At the time, I was uncertain why they were so concerned about the teen population of Japan. What did that have to do with death squads and socialized medicine? It wasn’t until years later that I realized what they were actually discussing—not “youth in Asia” but euthanasia. And it wasn’t until I became a veterinarian that I intimately understood euthanasia, the easy death.

Euthanasia was a hotly debated topic for those of us who grew up in the era of Dr. Jack Kevorkian. When I was 19, Kevorkian was convicted on charges of second-degree murder for assisting in the euthanasia of Thomas Youk. Youk was in the end stages of ALS, a disease that ravages the body but leaves the mind intact.

I paid little attention to these debates back then. I was bound for college, with the world unfurling before me. But these questions came back to haunt me almost 10 years later when I started my career as an emergency veterinarian. For what do veterinarians do besides vaccinate pets and treat diseases? We ease suffering. We help our animal companions to the threshold of death, and then we help them through that final, mysterious door. We euthanize sometimes on a daily basis. We do it for reasons of behavior, illness, injury.

And as we do it, we hold the hands of distraught owners and help them make that last painful decision. We offer words of comfort and listen to sacred stories. And we meet each pet’s eyes in those last moments, and what we see again and again is not fear but relief. Relaxation. The end of suffering has come at last. I have seen it firsthand, time and time again. The wordless thank you, as a beloved pet slips into whatever awaits us in the next life. The light dims and then is extinguished. As animal physicians, we are not afraid to acknowledge that death comes for us all and that we possess the ability to ease its final agonies.

Complete Article HERE!

This is what happens when you die, according to a bunch of different people who died

Many of their accounts align with a recent scientific study into the subject

Many respondents described have no vital signs, yet being able to ‘see’ what was going on

By Adam Withnall

What happens to us when we die? It’s a question that has exercised humanity’s finest minds since those humans have been around to have them – and has been recently the subject of a number of groundbreaking scientific studies.

Now, a Reddit thread has posed the question specifically to those who have been clinically dead and then revived, and has received hundreds of responses.

Though the veracity of the answers has to be taken with a small pinch of salt, the answers from what essentially amounts to a large survey on the subject can be broken down into three categories.

There are those who felt nothing at all; those who had an experience of light and some interaction with another person/being; and those who felt they could watch what was happening while they were “dead” without being able to do anything.

The first group corresponds closely with the answers of a single Redditor who officially died twice and recently invited questions on the topic from other users.

The latter group, meanwhile, appears to agree with the work of Dr Sam Parnia, who sought out cardiac arrest patients and found that almost 40 per cent described having some form of “awareness” at a time when they were clinically dead.

Here is a taster of some of the Reddit users’ responses – which don’t seem to have produced a consensus on the topic just yet:

“I was getting an angiogram done, wide awake watching the screen and talking to the doctor. Alarms started to go off and everyone became panicked. My world became soft and foggy and everything faded to black. Next thing I remember was opening my eyes and hearing a Dr say “we got him back”. It was really a peaceful feeling more than anything.”

“I collapsed during a class presentation one day. All breathing and blood circulation stopped. I felt as if I was plummeting down an endless hole while my peers cried for help. I was revived and still have no memory of the little bit of time before and after my death.”

“Overdosed on heroin, EMTs said my heart stopped. Didn’t see anything, just like sleeping with no dreams.”

“I collapsed at a work meeting in February 2014 and had no pulse or cardiac rhythm for about five minutes. My last memory was from about an hour prior to the incident, and my next memory was from two days later, when I emerged from a medically-induced coma.”

“I flatlined for around 40 seconds. It was like falling asleep without dreaming, no sense of self.”

“Pure, perfect, uninterrupted sleep, no dreams.”

“I do remember a little bit of the ambulance ride, but not from my own body. It was seriously the strangest thing I have ever experienced. It could have been a dream, but I saw my own unconscious body, completely flatlined, in the ambulance. I remember the EMT who was in the ambulance with me (whom I did not see before I passed out) had mint green hair and I couldn’t remember his name, but I asked for him when I regained consciousness about three days later.”

“I was standing in front of a giant wall of light. It stretched up, down, left and right as far as I could see. Kind of like putting your eyes 6″ from a fluorescent lightbulb. The next memory I have is waking up in the hospital.”

“I was standing somewhere. There was a fog all around me, and I saw my best friend (who at the time I’d been fighting with and he’d stopped talking to me) come out of the mist. He told me that I couldn’t go yet, that I have to keep trying, and if I promised not to give up, he’d see me back on Earth. I wordlessly agreed, and I was instantly pushed (into?) my body.”

“I see a vivid “flashback” of myself in the ambulance being taken to the hospital and I am stood in the ambulance looking down on myself / others in the ambulance.”

“When I coded, I don’t remember a sensation of floating, but I was able to recall things in detail that happened while I was ‘dead’ on the other side of the room. No white lights, no dead relatives, nobody telling me to go back, but I was definitely able to see things that were in no way visible from where my body was. I remember speaking and being angry because nobody would answer me. My mother told me ‘you didn’t say anything, you were dead’.”

“I saw nothingness. Black, long empty, but I had a feeling like everything was great and nothing was wrong at all. Imagine how preexistence felt, much the same as post existence.”

Complete Article HERE!