What is the natural way to die?

Started by

When I think of my mother's last two years, I see a cascading series of physical breakdowns, all of them treatable, yet treatment had side effects which caused other problems. There was no "fatal" diagnosis, just age. Yet, I wonder, is there a natural way to die? Is there anything I can do to prepare better for old age and eventual death, myself? I know the Healthcare Directive may help. But our science is still so far from being able to support our spiritual transition.


Strictly speaking the 'natural' way to die is the misery inflicted upon millions living in third world countries with no access to proper medical care. I think the sticking point for us is knowing when to give up, and although hindsight is always 20/20, in the moment few of us are willing to pull the plug on ourselves or our loved ones.
I've mentioned before that my father died on the waiting list for coronary bypass surgery. At the time we were outraged and heartbroken as he was 'only' 75. As I watch my mother's decline 20 years later I now see his death as a good one that saved him from the kind of suffering inherent with incredible old age.
Singingway, thank you for your thoughtful question. Often, I think if people were brave enough to NOT CALL 911 when they couldn't breathe, were having a heart attack, they might pass a natural death. Have never tried this theory out. But Cwillie has a good point. Maybe technology in medicine is causing prolonged, painful deaths where loved ones are forced to pull the plug. I apologize, if my answer seems harsh. It is truly a sensitive and personal subject. I hear you about the spiritual aspect and cannot comment.
I agree with the last two responses. A natural death would be just letting an illness progress untreated. I guess if you could handle it that would be the way to go.
I always have a hard time with what is "natural." It is natural, at least in one sense of the word, for humans to use the brains they were given/evolved with to better their existence, so to me medical treatment is not "unnatural" -- it is a reasonable and predictable outcome of being able to think, discover, create, manipulate, change, reorder, etc. That still leaves us with decisions to make about how to use what we have discovered/invented/created. But using these things doesn't seem unnatural to me.

I read a lot of mysteries -- two or three books a week for many years! That's a lot! And in that fictional genre, an "unnatural" death would be murder, manslaughter (etc.) or suicide. Dying of cancer, with or without extraordinary treatment is "natural" and does not require investigation. A person who dies of "natural causes" isn't typically the subject of a mystery book, unless someone suspects the natural causes had a little deliberate help.

I hope this isn't coming across as making light of a serious subject. But "natural" is only a word invented by humans, and it means what we agree it means. Sometimes that isn't exactly well-defined!
My mother has been in a NH for almost three years ... parkinsons, numerous strokes and falls over the years and dementia. She's been deteriorating for some time, eating less and less, just skin and bone now. I visited last Friday taking bananas and her favourite chocolates, she knew me and could understand what I said.

I visited yesterday (Tuesday) and the deterioration in just a few days was terrible. She didn't know me, wouldn't open her eyes and, much as staff tried, she would not even sip a little liquid. She's close to 90 and is in no pain. Her body is just shutting down and I expect she will pass within a few days. In my view her death is "natural" ... the body just can't go any further.
Some seniors just are so tired of living, and everything in their body is malfunctioning, and every joint hurts and creaks, and when they look in the mirror they are horrified, and all the while, they are sitting in a wet diaper waiting for an overworked aide who does not speak English very well to come and clean up their once sexy private parts.......at some point, the senior may just decide they have no appetite for Life any more, and stop eating. It takes a couple weeks, but eventually they will slip into a coma and pass away.
Yes. A natural death would be a voluntary cessation of nutrition. Young people on hunger strikes for political or religious causes live a long time, if miserably. However, a 90 or 100 year old person on a self-imposed hunger strike would likely return to God in 14-30 days.
At death, from the outside, it looks as if the body is struggling, and in the medical quest for palliative measures, they offer oxygen, sedatives, suction or something to help clear that mucus so the rattle doesn't bother the family. It's true, that sound is traumatizing. But the lungs are filled with nerve endings which are soothed and stimulated by the mucus. Hyperventilation is harsh and burning on a dry lung. The body hyperventilates naturally breathing more and more shallowly as death approaches. So the mucus is actually helpful. Nature has a plan to make the transition out -of-body as euphoric as possible, whatever the circumstances. At that point, any interventions are more for the comfort of the family than for the dying person.
The natural way would be to pass quietly in one's sleep, of old age (cardiac failure or similar). Otherwise, some people simply stop eating and drinking when their body is worn out. We had hoped Mom (101) would just go to sleep. But she was healthy and it wasn't until she fell and ended up in a nursing home that she declined because she kept falling until she could no longer walk. In the end, her "natural" death was simply fading away after not eating or drinking.
I realize that word "euphoric" may seem out of place. I look at death as analogous to giving birth. From the outside, it looks as if the mother is experiencing pain. An epidural has to be given right BEFORE the stage where the body will naturally release floods of endorphins, so many women don't get to experience that uniquely euphoric feeling. So even if the outside looks strained, panting, sweating, working hard -- on the inside you are filled with power, determination, peace, focus, joy, and spiritual connection. This happens naturally when the mother is undisturbed, undistracted, and the environment is calm, quiet and safe. (See Sheila Kitzinger, Michel Odent, Rahima Baldwin, Ina May Gaskin) The same in death -- the outside which is disturbing to the observers, may be necessary for the best process of death. The mucus has a role. Homeopathy relieves the "rattle" without affecting the necessary advancement of mucus in the lungs. The slow shutting down of physical organs allows the spirit to get accustomed to rising above the body, helps the person transition without shock or surprise.

Keep the conversation going (or start a new one)

Please enter your Comment

Ask a Question

Reach thousands of elder care experts and family caregivers
Get answers in 10 minutes or less
Receive personalized caregiving advice and support