Matters of Life and Death

While the goal as a Naturopath is always to extend and enhance life, there are times we must recognize our mortal time is limited and we will all die.  How we each die is different and can be done with grace, love, and dignity.

This is a subject that can be difficult to speak to your loved ones, your health professionals, and even yourself about.

It is understandable.  It is unknown, and often, the unknown frightens us.  I have my beliefs about what comes after this life, and I am sure you have yours.

There are some similarities in death, however.  It is my goal with this month’s article to address some of these things.  I have a couple of clients walking this final stretch of the path with loved ones, and this is the time of year when my husband feels the deaths of his parents and other family members most strongly.  I will attempt to give a smattering of information that can be helpful during this time.

 

How to help the dying

Supporting your loved one on their final journey can take a variety of forms.  During the time of being chronically ill, there are several stages your loved one will experience.  You may experience some or all of these stages too while they are ill.  They do not come in this order and you can return to stages multiple times during the process.  It is just the most common order given here.

First is disbelief.  “This cannot be.  Not me.”  Other people get this disease.  It isn’t really my diagnosis.

This is something I want to discuss.  Just because one doctor, nurse, hospital, etc. tells you you have something, you do not have to accept it.  Even if everyone tells you a diagnosis and its usual progression, people have likely beaten it at some point.  However, this doesn’t mean you will or won’t.  It is just important to recognize how someone telling us something can exacerbate or even cause a condition.

There may still be time to make drastic lifestyle changes and change your prognosis.  However, realize these lifestyle changes would have to be monumental and permanent changes.  It took a life for your body to reach this point and to get out of it will take Herculean effort you may or may not want to undertake.  This is OK!  For both you and your loved ones to recognize you may not be able to make enough changes no matter what you do.  It is a fine line, but one to be aware of.

Some remedies for the disbelief stage:

Flower Remedies Essential Oils
Agrimony

Angel’s Trumpet

Five-Flower Formula

Star of Bethlehem

Acceptance

Cypress

Present Time

Sacred Mountain

Disbelief can fester into denial.  Realize when I say not accepting something, I do not mean denying it.  The most change can occur when something is recognized and accepted and honest changes take place.

Some remedies for the denial stage:

Flower Remedies Essential Oils
Angel’s Trumpet

Black-Eyed Susan

Chrysanthemum

Mullein

Acceptance

Roman Chamomile

Sage

Transformation

The next stage is often sadness (though, again, there is no strict order).  Sometimes, this is a vision or epiphany creating certainty that death is near.   Other times, a voice inside says, “I am going to die.”  This is a time of tears and sobs.

Some remedies for the sadness stage:

Flower Remedies Essential Oils
Sagebrush

Sweet Chestnut

Wild Rose

Yerba Santa

Bergamot

Tangerine

Valor

Often, out of this, there is a pseudo-hope stage.  Bargaining happens.  Fantasies of miraculous healing occur.  A belief that a noble cause you are now dedicated to can only be accomplished with many years of continued life.  There may even be imaginary or even real business meetings with a higher power or God.

Some remedies for the bargaining stage:

Flower Remedies Essential Oils
Agrimony

Angel’s Trumpet

Five-Flower Formula

Star of Bethlehem

Acceptance

Cypress

Present Time

Sacred Mountain

Guilt frequently accompanies bargaining.  This illness is deserved and came about from a past failure.  There is a warped sense of justice, having earned a punishment.

Some remedies for the guilt stage:

Flower Remedies Essential Oils
Elm

Pine

Inspiration

Joy

Release

Anger is another stage we experience.  Fists go through walls, feet stomp, some will have violent tantrums on the floor while screaming and cursing.  Whether the anger is at the doctors, a higher power, the food industry, hospitals, other healthy people, family, friends, themselves, this is a normal stage.

Some remedies for the anger stage:

Flower Remedies Essential Oils
Poison Oak

Scarlet Monkeyflower

Snapdragon

Willow

Joy

Release

Valor

Finally, there will be acceptance and surrender.  No more fighting, no more bargaining, no more hope.  There will still be some sorrow and disbelief, but there is a knowledge and understanding death is near.

Some remedies for the acceptance/surrender stage:

Flower Remedies Essential Oils
Angelica

Forget-Me-Not

Mountain Pride

Star Tulip

3 Wise Men

Frankincense

Surrender

Support needs will vary day by day.  It is important to recognize emotions can change hourly or daily.  You will want to focus on the now of how your loved one is doing (as possible).

All of these stages are normal and help us work through and cope with the situation at hand.

 

Signs Death Is Close

1-3 months prior to death

  • More sleeping and dozing
  • Withdrawing from people
  • Cease doing things they enjoyed
  • Talk less (unless it is a child who talks more)
  • Eat and drink less

1-2 weeks prior to death

  • Little appetite
  • Little thirst
  • Less urination & defecation
  • Increased pain
  • Different wake-sleep patterns
  • Variations in blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing
  • Variations in body temperature
  • Confusion or dazed state
  • Changes in skin temperature and texture (cool, moist, pale, warm, etc)
  • Congested breathing
  • Speaking with their dead (or angels, spirits, etc)

Within days to hours

  • No desire for food or drink
  • No urination or bowel movements
  • Grimacing, groaning, scowling from pain
  • Teary or glazed eyes
  • Irregular or difficult to find pulse
  • Drop in body temperature
  • Blue skin on knees, feet, hands, etc (often during the last 24 hours)
  • Apnea (breathing can be as little as 4 times a minute)
  • Unconsciousness or drifting in and out (but they can still hear)
  • Restlessness, even trying to climb out of bed or striking out

 

Changes to Be Aware Of

The body shuts down as it works its way towards death.  This means less hunger and thirst.  Honor this in your loved one.  Digestion is not important and less energy is directed to the task.  Feeding your loved one when s/he isn’t hungry can result in the food simply rotting in their stomach or intestines.  Do not force it.  Let your loved one guide you on if there is a desire for food or drink and how much.

 

How to Help the Family

If you aren’t a close relation to the dying person but are close to someone in the family, it is a good time to offer support.  Let your friend or loved one know you are there if needed.  Bring a meal (often something easy to reheat is helpful) to the family.  Offer to babysit or pet sit as appropriate.  Even offering to take up a collection to help with final expenses can be tremendously helpful during this time.  Think of what could help you were you the one going through this situation.

 

How to Help Yourself

If you are close to the dying person, you will be experiencing grief in its many forms.  Ensure you are as present as you wish to be in the process.  Be aware you and the dying loved one may need breaks apart too.  Take them as you see fit.  Ask for help and don’t refuse it when offered.  Breathe.  Find support from a counselor or naturopath.  Consider getting body or energy work done to help you keep your strength.  Keep a journal in writing, photographs, or video of the journey you are on with your loved one.  Seek a support group.

 

How to Help the Dying

One of the most crucial things you can do to help is to let your loved one know how much s/he is loved, that you will be ok and will help others grieving this loss, and give permission.  Some people will wait until they can say goodbye to everyone, know that certain affairs will be taken care of, and that they can go to the other side.  This is especially important in some cases.  Imagine what you would want when it is your time.  Most likely, someone saying hang in there or please don’t go when you know you need to wouldn’t be helpful.  You’d want to know things will be ok and you are loved and relieved of obligations.  Even if words fail you, being present and holding your loved one’s hand with a firm hand can be extremely comforting.  Some people will wait to die until everyone is present, others will wait until everyone else leaves the room.  Even if your loved one is completely unconscious and has been for days or weeks, do not speak over him or her about funeral plans or argue over inheritances.  They still hear you on some level.  Offer respect and love.  Take everything else out of the room.

 

Remedies for Dying

Flower Remedies

Angel’s Trumpet – helps surrender to death, ability of the soul to prepare to cross into the spiritual world

Angelica – ministering to one crossing the threshold of death; helping the soul find protection and benevolence

Black-Eyed Susan – helps with denial/avoidance of a terminal illness; develops courage to look at the true situation and the insight to understand

Chrysanthemum – deep sense of despair about own mortality, ability to accept transitory nature of life on earth, shifting awareness from the lower to the higher self

Five-Flower Formula – extreme pain or shock, helping the soul to register consciousness

Holly – brings calm and acceptance to the heart, forgiving others, making peace with worldly relationships before death

Love-Lies-Bleeding – profound pain that moves beyond the limits of self-identity; soul/spiritual transcendence

Mariposa Lily – resolving conflicts with mother or female figures; attunement with the Divine Feminine as a loving force

Mountain Pride – courage to fight negative thoughts about death; seeing death or terminal illness as a challenge or initiation for the soul

Penstemon – extreme physical suffering or hardship with terminal illness; courage to accept and endure the suffering

Pink Yarrow – oversensitivity to thoughts and fears of others about death

Purple Monkeyflower – extreme fear of dying due to inability to trust oneself as a purely spiritual being; fear-based religious beliefs that impede the dying process

Red Clover – dealing with charged family situations at times of death or terminal illnesses; group hysteria and other extreme emotions

Rock Rose – fear of death, especially fear the ego will be utterly destroyed

Sage – surveying life experiences and realizing learned lessons, reflecting and accepting life and death as a larger evolution process of the soul

Sagebrush – ability to let go, to experience inner emptiness and nothingness as a precondition of spiritual birth

St. John’s Wort – fear of out-of-body states, anchoring inner light and awareness as the soul expands beyond our physical world

Scarlet Monkeyflower – anger about death

Star of Bethlehem – soothes shock resulting from hearing of death or learning of impending death

Star Tulip – to increase receptive awareness of subtle states of consciousness; to shift awareness to metaphysical hearing and seeing

Sunflower – resolving conflicts with father, making peace with inner masculine self

Sweet Chestnut – feeling cut off from higher power, extreme mental anguish and sense of isolation

Walnut – helpful in transitions; breaking links, especially when others may hold too tightly and not allow the release of the departing soul

Willow – ability to forgive, releasing bitterness and resentment towards others; taking responsibility for own life path

 

Essential Oils

3 Wise Men – opens the crown chakra and helps release negative emotions, grounding

Acceptance – helps in transition to the other side

Awaken – recognize higher potential as a spiritual being having a human experience

Bergamot – helps move through grief into acceptance and eventually joy

Cypress – brings acceptance for transition, does not disallow grief

Forgiveness – for guilt

Frankincense – helps the soul make the choice; if it is time to go, it helps in crossing over; if it is not time to go, it helps the soul to re-anchor to the body

Joy – helps work through grief

Peace & Calming – helps with guilt and hysterical grief

Present Time – versatile; grounds, helps with acceptance, helps with grieving, gives strength

Release – helps with anger and helps with letting go of this life and allowing transition

Sacred Mountain – grief and acceptance of inevitable transition

Transformation – supports changes

Valor – helps with discouragement, sorrow, and grief

White Angelica – to help see the divine in the process; also grief

 

Therapies

Light Healing Touch, Chakra Work, Color Therapy, Sound Therapy

 

Remedies for Self/Family/Grieving

Flower Remedies

Bleeding Heart – letting go, releasing attachment to those who can no longer be with us

Borage – overcoming grief from death or impending death of a loved one

Dandelion – releasing emotional pain and grief stuck in the body

Elm – feeling overwhelmed

Five-Flower Formula – extreme pain or shock, helping the soul to register consciousness

Forget-Me-Not – ability to contact a loved one who has died and gone beyond the earthly realm

Fuchsia – contacting emotionally repressed grief

Golden Ear Drops – releasing tears that are being held back

Holly – brings calm and acceptance to the heart, forgiving others, making peace with worldly relationships before death

Honeysuckle – letting go of the past, coming into the now so life can go on

Love-Lies-Bleeding – profound pain that moves beyond the limits of self-identity; soul/spiritual transcendence

Mariposa Lily – resolving conflicts with mother or female figures; attunement with the Divine Feminine as a loving force

Mountain Pride – courage to fight negative thoughts about death; seeing death or terminal illness as a challenge or initiation for the soul

Pink Yarrow – oversensitivity to thoughts and fears of others about death

Red Clover – dealing with charged family situations at times of death or terminal illnesses; group hysteria and other extreme emotions

Sage – surveying life experiences and realizing learned lessons, reflecting and accepting life and death as a larger evolution process of the soul

Scarlet Monkeyflower – anger about death

Star of Bethlehem – soothes shock resulting from hearing of death or learning of impending death

Star Tulip – to increase receptive awareness of subtle states of consciousness; to shift awareness to metaphysical hearing and seeing

Sunflower – resolving conflicts with father, making peace with inner masculine self

Sweet Chestnut – feeling cut off from higher power, extreme mental anguish and sense of isolation

Walnut – helpful in transitions; breaking links, especially when others may hold too tightly and not allow the release of the departing soul

Willow – ability to forgive, releasing bitterness and resentment towards others; taking responsibility for own life path

Yerba Santa – internalized sadness, deeply stored pain in the heart and chest

 

Essential Oils

3 Wise Men – opens the crown chakra and helps release negative emotions, grounding

Basil – for bereavement

Bergamot – helps move through grief into acceptance and eventually joy

Forgiveness – for guilt

Joy – helps work through grief

Peace & Calming – helps with guilt and hysterical grief

Present Time – versatile; grounds, helps with acceptance, helps with grieving, gives strength

Release – helps with anger and helps with letting go of this life and allowing transition

Sacred Mountain – grief and acceptance of inevitable transition

Trauma Life – calming, grounding, helps purge stress and trauma; grants perspective

Valor – helps with discouragement, sorrow, and grief

White Angelica – to help see the divine in the process; also grief

 

Therapies

Massage, Reiki, Lymph Drain, Color Therapy, Sound Therapy

 

 

Throughout the Entire Process for All:

Energy and Bodywork can be extremely helpful.  Consider Light Healing Touch, Reiki, Energy Work, Sound Therapy, Color Therapy, Massage, and more

 

Making Things Easier on Those Left Behind

It is hard to think about, but planning what you want your funeral to look like, how you want power of attorney to be handled, whether you want extraordinary life-sustaining measures taken, and more can ease the burden and pain your loved ones will feel when you more to the next realm.

Most of us think of a will and life insurance when when considering whether we are prepared to leave our loved ones with some security after we are gone; however, having a clear guide to your wishes in other areas is very important.  Do you want to be on life support for 20 or 30 years?  Do you want to be buried, embalmed, cremated, green buried, in a vault, in the ground, etc.?  These questions could be considered and notes made in advance of you ever getting ill.  In fact, I have been speaking with my family about my feelings on how my illness and death should be handled should it come sooner than expected since I was in my teens.

Some colleagues of mine have a folder labeled “Here is everything you need to know” that they keep updated regularly.  Inside, it has all the information their loved ones need including last letters of love to children and grandchildren.  How you want to handle this is personal, but having some definite plans in place regarding, at a minimum, funeral wants, financial matters, end-of-life care and directives, and the like in place very early will give you a true sense of doing your utmost to care for those you love even when you aren’t able to consciously do so.

 

Recommended Reading

For Adults

The Orphaned Adult

Final Gifts

Journey of Souls

 

For Children

Badger’s Parting Gifts

The Fall of Freddie the Leaf

I Miss You

 

As always, let me know if I can be of assistance especially during this difficult but beautiful transition.

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