Generations ago, the end of life was a part of life. At a time when people died at home, when several generations of a single family lived together, and when, unfortunately, disease was both more common and more dangerous, being present for the final days and weeks of someone’s life was an experience that most people had been through several times. While it was surely never routine, there would have been a certain rhythm to it, a sense that it was time to put one’s affairs in order, for family to gather around, and for final words to be said. The end of life was a sacred time.
Today, by contrast, our experience with the end of life is usually much different. For one thing, many people pass away in hospitals or other kinds of medical facilities, lending an institutional feel to the final period of time. Our modern medications and treatments have also profoundly changed the experience. Even as they provide the tremendous gift of relieving pain and anxiety, these medications usually leave their beneficiary unable to think clearly or communicate in the days or even weeks before passing away. And, thankfully, death is something many of us simply experience less often.