I really resonated with this comment from a reader of a New York Times article about caring for people at the end of life, by Atul Gawande:
But when I faced incurable life threatening diseases myself I finally learned the “meaning” of life and death. Stuff happens and we stumble along trying to make the best of things before we all die by the unknown means natural/ supernatural destiny has planned for us. The advantage and insight provided by a near death experience or life-threatening illness is context and perspective about the chance random nature of our mortality.
A NYT reader named Patty Dixon said this in response to an article about a doctor who chose palliative care over last-ditch chemotherapy and surgery, and died at home with family and friends:
The problem is, in our culture, we are all sailing along on the Good Ship Denial. Death will come many, many moons from now when we are very old, tired and deep in sleep. Getting a terminal diagnosis is so rattling partly, I think, because we are shocked right back into reality. Suddenly we have entered the land of the dying, where no hope resides.
But here’s the kicker. We are all dying as much as we are living. There is no “land of the dying” any more than there is a land of the living. We are all constantly doing both. The moment you are born, you begin to die.
My point is, we must live with this wisdom, not in fear of it. If you weren’t afraid to be born, then you should not be afraid to die. Remember, cancer occurs because cells won’t die when they should. This all might sound silly to some of you. Whereas I find it of great comfort.
My time as a hospice volunteer taught me that you must live every, single moment fully and humbly. Never take one second for granted. And don’t fear the most natural thing in the world. Death is just death. Break down your fear. Is it of being in pain? Is it of being separated from loved ones? Is it the unknown? Face these issues, bravely and squarely, and you will find a great measure of peace.
Dying well does not come easily. But we all owe it to ourselves to learn from those who have gone down this journey and did it right. Dr. McKinley did it right. I hope I do too.
I can’t remember who said this one, but it was in a podcast about moving through the grief of living on after the death of a loved one: “I kept going, and meaning took hold in unexpected places.”
And finally, a passage from the Jewish Gates of Prayer that was read at my Uncle Howard’s funeral gathering quite a few years ago, that I really liked:
All things pass; all that lives must die
All that we prize is but lent to us; and the time comes when we must surrender it.
We are travelers on the same road that leads to the same end.
And finally, a quote from me: “I would cry more often if it wasn’t for all the snot.”
(Today’s pre-zap set-up procedure went fine and tomorrow afternoon is the Real Thing. Should only be a bit over an hour for the procedure itself, starting at 1:30. I get to bring my own CDs.)