Kiwis get anxious thinking about death – research

Kiwis get anxious thinking about death – research

More than 2600 New Zealanders with a terminal illness will spend this Christmas in a hospice instead of their homes.

It's a prospect that still makes many uncomfortable, and new research shows Kiwis aren't well prepared for death. But some of those who face it there say there's nothing to fear.

Hospice is a home away from home for those whose end is in sight, but its residents go there to live, not to die – residents like 64-year-old Fifi Atirai, whose motor neuron disease will eventually claim her life.

In the meantime Totara House Hopsice in Manurewa, south Auckland, gives her the chance to make the most of whatever time she has left.

"I don't think of dying in here. I think of enjoying life to the most to the most," says Ms Atirai.

With nearly 40 years' experience as a registered nurse, she's used to giving, not receiving, medical care.

"You can be a Prime Minister, like John Key, or a cleaner. You can be a baby or old person. But you never know what lies ahead," says Ms Atirai.

And she is not alone. New research from Hospice New Zealand shows many of us aren't prepared for the inevitable. A third of us get anxious when we think about our deaths.

Less than 40 percent have talked to family about what's important when it comes, and only just more than half have prepared a written will.

Palliative care expert Professor Rod MacLeod says too many people are held back by fear.

"People are anxious about dying in pain, but that's not necessary. People are anxious about dying alone, and again that's not necessary. So I think if there are things that you're concerned about, ask," he says.

Overcoming those fears is a top priority for any hospice, especially with some patients unsure whether this Christmas could be their last.

"I think a lot of people when they think about palliative care they think about death, but palliative care's about living," says Prof MacLeod.

For Ms Atirai it means she can spend her days with family, knowing that her needs will be met until the end.

"So lucky to have a family that cares," she says.

It's a reminder it's not how long you have that matters most; it's how you spend it, and the people you spend it with.

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