People react differently to the prospect of death.
People react differently to the prospect of death. THINKSTOCK

'Death anxiety' a common feeling

WE live and we die, but knowing this doesn't make losing someone or facing your own mortality any easier.

University of the Sunshine Coast psychologist Rachael Sharman said everyone was affected differently by death and could be placed on the "death anxiety" scale.

This psychological phenomenon places people on this scale based on how they feel about death, from having a very low death anxiety to a very high level death anxiety.

If you are at the lower end of the scale, you accept death is an inevitable part of life and deal with it just as you would any other issue.

But if you are on the higher end of the scale, you tend to be scared of the thought of death, whether it will hurt, when it will happen, how it will happen and also about losing loved ones.

Dr Sharman said most children under the age of 10 might not fall into this spectrum as they did not comprehend the permanency of death.

As an example, children were used to cartoon characters like Wile E Coyote consistently coming back to life.

Eventually kids find out, usually from losing a pet, that you can't bring things back to life.

But Dr Sharman said people sometimes needed help coping with death or finding out they were terminally ill.

"Not everyone goes through the Five Stages of Grief - some people experience a couple of stages, some move through them at a quicker pace or skip a few steps - we all grieve in our own way," she said.

But for many people, the five stages will see them go through denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

One woman who has had to come to terms with her own mortality is Kathy Raedel, and she said palliative care was the place which helped her the most.

The 56-year-old Coast woman is battling breast cancer and has had three stays in the Dove Palliative Care Unit, Caloundra.

She said she "was a mess" when she first went in but had been set up with pain management, and offered a multitude of services which included social workers, dieticians and occupational therapists.

"It was a home away from home," she said.

"They help you through the process of dealing with your mortality.

"I am grateful for everything they have done for me and astonished by the services they provide for people in need of help."

Stewart Wood, secretary of the not-for-profit Katie Rose Cottage in Doonan, said that at any given time, about 250-300 people on the Coast were suffering in their last three months of life.

"We can only assist six or so people at any one time," he said.

"In the future, we would like to accommodate more but at the moment, it is all we can do."

He said registered nurses and volunteers kept the hospice running 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

"The staff are trained to deal with death but it is inevitable they gain emotional attachment to patients," he said.

"Some staff after working at the hospice for a little while feel like they can't continue. It is not an easy job to do."

Mr Wood recalls a woman saying recently after she lost a family member that "it was a beautiful death, in the country and not in a clinical room of a hospital. The staff were very caring and compassionate".

He said this sort of comment made it all worth it and gave staff the strength to press on.

 

IF ONLY

Palliative care nurse shares the most common regrets of her dying patients.

  1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I didn't work so hard.
  3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.



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