The Makings of a Good Death

Peter died on Thursday September 17, 2015 at 8:32 pm PST – it was a good death. Yes, I hear the question, “How can any death be a good death?” Let me explain.

We had a few things in our favor, time, open communication, faced the hard conversations, a willingness to share our experience of Peter’s ride with cancer, and strong spiritual beliefs.


As the old saying goes, time was on our side. Peter’s ride with cancer was 6 years long so we had ample time to prepare. The first cancer prognosis was a hard one for all of us to hear, especially Peter. Here is an excerpt from a piece Peter wrote for my book When Death Speaks;

“I arrived the Sunday before the treatments were to start and checked into the cancer care lodge immediately adjacent to the cancer clinic. The lodge was a godsend as hotels in the Okanagan in the middle of summer can be pricey. The lodge was not only affordably priced—it also included all meals and had a nurse on staff. In addition, there was an incredible group of volunteers without whom the lodge could not function.

I checked in and got unpacked in my half of the room (turns out I was to have a roommate) and then went down to the cafeteria for dinner. I grabbed a tray and headed towards the line-up and stopped halfway there, frozen in place.

It finally hit me that my cancer was real.

I was going to get my first radiation treatment the next morning. All this time, I thought that I had been handling things well—more likely I had been at least somewhat in denial. I could not move. I felt overwhelmed, terrified, and alone.”

The rest of us were shocked too, though all were optimistic and hopeful. After all catching cancer early was a good thing and we do have chemo and radiation therapies to treat this. Secretly though I had the thought, “Shit this could be it. Peter could die.” I wasn’t the only one I am certain.

And so began the pre-grieving, Peter was no longer immortal and we all began consciously or unconsciously to prepare for the end. Each treatment failure, each new prognosis gave each of us time to let go a little more of Peter. The spring of 2015 brought along the final chance to pre-grieve – a trip to Vancouver General Hospital for stem cell treatment, hopeful indeed, yet reality was settling in. Family showed up to support Peter during the two months he was in town. Pre-grieving was an obvious reality to us all, including Peter.

So you see time gave us all an advantage – we got to let go of Peter a little bit at a time.

Open Communication

We spoke to each other it is that simple, we kept each other on the same page. Yes we had our differences, and we each had our own way of approaching the challenges Peter faced. And to be sure we all chipped in, sometimes passionately because we all cared deeply. What saved our collective bacon though was this realization:

We realized early on in the goings that we all had input – Peter had final say.

Once Peter had made a treatment choice we all fell in line behind his choice and supported him.

Hard Conversations

We didn’t shy away from the hard conversations, those chats that that were about impending death. Those discussions about end of life preparation, those talks about life without Peter.

We all faced them with Peter and with each other.

So we had time, we talked openly, and we faced the difficult conversations. The topper that I personally feel made a huge difference in our process was this;

Willingness to Share Our Experience

Each of us, Peter included, shared our experience of Peter’s ride with cancer publicly, Peter’s piece for my book was really helpful for readers and for him. Personally, I felt strongly that others could learn from our experience, that our sharing so openly might help at least one other person facing death – doing my best to make conversations about dying and death normal in our death denying culture.

This public sharing actually helped each of us express what was real as opposed to stuffing it all down and holding on to our emotional response to Peter’s adventures with cancer – a kind of public catharsis. I think our generosity in this way somehow soothed the pain we were feeling.

Strong Spiritual Beliefs

Each of my family members has a strong spiritual or religious belief, some Anglican, some a type of First Nations belief, some a type of Buddhist approach and other just kinda’ Spiritual. Each though had faith in their belief that there was something more than just the human being and that something more existed in some way, some how. This was all that was needed spiritually was this ‘faith’.

So this is what made Peter’s death a good death, we used the time we had to let go gradually, we talked to each other and stayed current and had the difficult conversations, and we had a faith in something larger than human life, and we shared our dying, death and loss experiences generously and publicly.

It worked for us, I might just work for you.

Warmly and with gratitude







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