on a mission to embody grace and compassion in all relationships

Dying More Simply — Day 7

This series is about living more simply.  But how can we make it easier for our loved ones when our days are numbered?

How can we die more simply?

It is not something we want to talk about with our children.  It is not something we want to hear from our father or mother, spouse or partner.

“Now, now, now,” we say in a dismissive way.  “We’re not going to talk about that, you are not going to die anytime soon.”  We are afraid if we talk about it, somehow it will happen sooner rather than later.

But if you had witnessed what I did recently, all of us would talk and listen more.

I was inspired, amazed, and graced to witness such a conversation.

A daughter listened intently to the physician’s words that her mother would die soon because she could no longer breathe on her own without a respirator. It was a difficult and hard time.

The adult daughter sat up straight in her chair, leaned forward and gazed into the moist eyes of the female physician who had delivered the news, and then said with a clear voice, “My mother and I have talked about this day several times over the last few years.  If you are telling me that my mother cannot get better because of her disease and medical condition, I am here to say that she does not want to live an extended amount of time on a respirator.  She is at peace.  She has said that she is tired, and that she is ready to go and be with God.  I want to honor her wishes.”

This daughter had been granted “power of attorney” by her mother before they got to this point.  The mother had a living will that stated her wishes in writing.  And the daughter’s sisters were all in the room and nodded affirmatively for they knew the truth.

Because a mother talked to the family she loved ahead of time, it was was a sacred time.

Because a daughter listened, her mother’s life would end with dignity.  Her mother would have the kind of care that would not allow her to be in pain or discomfort, and she would be surrounded by those she loved at her bedside.  It would be a “good death.”

I invite you to talk with those you love about your wishes, now and often.  Especially when you are well and healthy.  Share your wishes with all the members of your family, and put it in writing.

I encourage you to talk.  I encourage you to listen.

So that we can live, and die, more simply.


  1. michelle sanders

    What an important message to get out, Malcolm. I have been a social worker with hospice for the past 10 years, and have witnessed over and over how simple and beautiful leaving this earth can be when patients have shared their wishes, and the family has honored those wishes, to let go when they are dying. I can not tell you how many times I have had family members tell me that they were so grateful how peaceful their mom’s death was, or how they were amazed that their wife “just went to sleep”. When we share our wishes, both verbally and on paper, with those we love we are truly giving them a gift. When we listen intently, and allow those conversations to occur, we are giving our families a gift, also. Our “tag line” at Hosparus, where I work, is “because the end of life is part of living”….indeed it is!

  2. Ed Withers

    That was also my father’s wish Malcolm, and he, my mom, my sisters and I had talked about it ahead of time. It made it easier on us left behind to allow him to pass on with dignity after a massive stroke that took him March 11, 2007.

  3. Malcolm

    Hi Michelle, thanks for your affirmation of the importance of talking with family members about how we want to be treated in our last days.

    And I love your hospice’s tag line about “Hos-par-us” as a take off on “toys-r-us.”


  4. Malcolm

    Ed, your words and experience is a great encouragement to others to talk and listen to one another about final wishes. I am sorry for your loss of your Dad, I know that is a hard experience.

    Peace to you my friend.

  5. Angela Hewlett

    The article, “Dying more simply” was well written and was received at a time when I am just getting over my mother’s death. My mother died on October 21, 2009 just two weeks after her seventy-fourth birthay and six days after hospice disconnected her feeding tube. I am not sure if she signed a living well but I do know that her death was horrified. She starved to death, which brings me to one of God’s Ten Commandments-“Thou Shall not Kill.” I am a former chaplain intern and witnessed death quite often. During my pastoral care at the hospital, I realized that people want to die a peaceful death. They signed a living will so that their lives would not be prolonged by machines nor did they want to be comatized the rest of their lives. It is good to have all wishes on paper. Thanks for a well written article. Do keep the articles coming to my e-mail address. God bless you and I look forward in working with your chaplain team this Fall.

  6. Malcolm


    First of all I am sorry to hear about your mother’s death, and I am sorry it was such a difficult and complicated death as well for her, for you, and the rest of your family. Sometimes we can help others by learning from our experience and helping others to avoid such complication in death. My hope is that as you tell your story in helpful ways, it will also help your grief.

    Peace to you,

  7. Vern Farnham

    Malcolm we do death and dying every single day, and you are correct, it would be very, very beneficial if we would just talk about it.

    That is the reason I did my D.Min. dissertation on a short-term death and dying course for congregations. We just need to talk about death and dying.


  8. Jeff Jones

    Malcolm, thank you. My 86 year old mother lives with us and she is in excellent health but those living will forms have been sitting on my desk for too long.

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