The Art of a Good Death

Although most older adults don’t often discuss their end-of-life wishes as openly and clearly as they could to help ensure a better death, a subtle change is taking place as aging baby boomers look towards their final years and want to make proactive decisions that allow for some measure of control over how they experience death. A recently published guide, The Art of Dying Well, A Practical Guide to a Good End of Life by Katy Butler, helps readers prepare for aging in place successfully, shares tips on how to communicate with doctors effectively and supports the normalization of discussions about death to achieve a less clinical, painful experience.

Most people, when asked, will say they want to age in place for as long as possible and die at home surrounded by loved ones. But this scenario rarely plays out as medical interventions frequently extend life, sometimes at the cost of great individual suffering. Butler is also the author of Knocking on Heaven’s Door which combines her personal experience as a caregiver for her father after he suffered a seriously disabling stroke with deep dive into the medical practices that extend life.

Butler helps guide people facing their own mortality with greater awareness and skills to take control over how the end of life plays out. Research has found that people who are passive about their care when facing a serious health condition are less likely to experience a good death. According to a 2017 Kaiser Foundation study, half of Americans die in nursing homes and hospitals and many suffer in pain spending their last days in a highly clinical, sterile setting.

But by asking the right questions, selecting an effective health advocate to speak for you when you cannot, and creating a solid support network, life can be lived more fully even with a fatal diagnosis and a better death can be achieved. Not everything at the end of life can be controlled, but understanding how to navigate the health care system and prepare for death can offer many dying adults a measure of peace and comfort.

Read more by former reporter Katy Butler about preparing for a good death by following this link to a recent Opinion piece in the San Francisco Chronicle.