After decades of dealing with death and end of life care, I have this one belief:
We each will die the same way we choose to live.
What does that mean? What am I trying to say here?
Think about it this way and ask yourself:
Do you meet problems and challenges in your personal life head on, with honesty, taking the problem apart, figuring out all possible options, confronting other people with your views/issues/emotions, getting input and advice, making a plan, moving yourself, or yourself with others, forward to resolve personal problems and achieve your goals?
Or do you keep your head down, avoid conflict, just let problems roll over you, and weigh and wear you down over your lifetime?
If you are a proactive person in your personal life, if you meet emotional challenges and problems you encounter head on, whether its with your own behavior or with the behavior of others, then you will likely face your death with the same high degree of emotional honesty and integrity and, perhaps, even with grace.
On the other hand, if you run away from conflict, if you keep your head down and ignore the painful and difficult issues in your personal life, if you suffer along in relationship situations that others would find intolerable, then it’s not so likely that you will face your death with a high degree or even moderate degree of emotional honesty, personal integrity or grace.
Most of us, because we are human beings, are neither uniformly proactive nor are we always hiding our heads in the sand, hoping our personal problems go away. Please hear me – most of us live, and die, somewhere in between.
When it comes to death, though, you can learn about the process of death, you can have good and healthy discussions with loved ones, and with trusted advisors (spiritual, financial, legal, funereal), and you can have an honest death, faced with grace and minimal physical suffering, if you choose to do so.
I believe that anyone who chooses to, can become honest with themselves and others about what they want to have happen when they are dying and after they die. But this has to be an active choice on your part, it is not something that happens by default. And, believe me, none of this is intuitive – we do not just “know” what to do when it comes to the dying process, whether it is our own or when we are involved with the passing of someone we love.
Maybe reading this blog is the first step for you on that path of choosing to face death with grace and honesty by learning about the process of death and planning for your own, or preparing for the passing of a loved one. If that is the case, then please know that I am honored that you are reading this blog.
How we do one thing is how we do everything…
I love this attention to choice. The awareness that we have a choice, and then the courage to step up and choose, is powerful. I had a patient in his forties, metastatic colon cancer, who chose home hospice over further surgery or chemo. His wife thought he was f*#$ing nuts… But weeks later, at home where he had his bed in the living room and where he could hear his daughter play pieces from Tchaikovsky’s Seasons o then piano, she said… I never thought being at home like this would be so fun. She totally transformed ad she embraced the dying process beautifully. And the spark for that transformation was her husband’s clear choice of what he wanted for he end of his life. He said tubes and all that in the hospital are not where his humanity is.
Thank you, Daniel, for sharing that inspiring story with all of us! We do get to choose where our humanity is throughout our lives and that self-determination is most important in our last weeks with those we love.
I was about to differ with you, based on the title, wanting to say that we don’t necessarily die the way we live, because I’ve known very detail-oriented, planning, check-list people who were not that way facing the death of loved ones – or of themselves. Then I saw that you were going the same direction – people can learn.
This is a wonderful post! However, for me it was scary to read, because I do not like confrontations and hold alot in! OH NO!!
The people who post here are quite refreshing. Thinking through dying focuses me on better living the way I want to live.
Paula … you have put this all together with such thought. I once taught a course on Universal Truths. One of which “the way we do anything is the way we do everything”
If one notices patterns of decision making in families and between spouses, you will see this at play over and over.
My husband wants to give thoughtful attention to things but wants to get to the decision.
I want to look at all the information available and make an informed decision that leaves nothing open to interpretation.
Nothing is wrong about either type. We built our house 26 yrs. ago with this exact decision making style.
I LOVE your calling attention to this as it opens conversations that need to happen.
Thank you, Julie! If this post inspires, encourages, or motivates others to have conversations about death with their loved ones, then it has been worth all the effort. I see this pattern repeated over and over in my practice – and you are totally on point – “the way we do anything is the way we do everything.” Thank you for leaving a comment!
it has become commonplace to be saying “we need to have this conversation” as if to suggest one person has the power to tell “everyone” what they should be saying, let alone thinking. It is policing thought in one of its worse possible ways. This sort of fancy talk, while certainly rabbinical in nature, is not empowering anything other than the author of it. It is a sort of self-enchantment that leaves an author self-satisfied, but for anyone else kills ones own innate ability to think for oneself. it is not empowering but rather yet another roadblock. Someone saying “wait a minute, you haven’t thought what I’ve thought. Please think this first before you pass Go and collect $200.”
Just providing clever words about dying doesn’t make dying any easier for anyone.
Jim, my intention in creating this blog and in the specific post you read was to offer, but never mandate, a different way of viewing/thinking about how we approach death, our own and the death of others. I do not think blog posts are powerful enough to “impose” or “police” one way of thinking upon readers. Readers are not “sheep” to be lead, they are thoughtful human beings capable of reading posts and deciding for themselves what ideas work for them and what ideas/concepts do not work for them. I’m writing posts to encourage people to talk with those they love about death, what they want at their time of death, what they care about, and plan for taking care of people they love after death. I’m saddened by the suffering I see in families/circles of friends from the lack of discussion/conversation/planning when death is imminent. I write these posts in the hopes that my words encourage others to have those tough conversations and to make plans. I also write posts to provide practical advice (about hospice services, sitting vigil at a death bed, staying safe in our homes, etc) about death and dying. Like any writer, I observe my world and offer my thoughts about what I see and how I think things could be better, for whatever that may be of help to others. I sincerely hope you find other words from other writers that help you. And, for what it is worth, I am equally frustrated that I don’t know any words, clever or not, that could ever make it easier to live with the loss of someone you love.
What I am frustrated by is from watching a new age culture of people thinking that they have all the answers that, if you would do A, then, as sure as the sun will rise, B.
And you remind me of a woman I was once involved with, who upon meeting my father, broke up with me. “He avoids things” she said with some sort of omniscience that has perplexed me ever since. She also said “I don’t like the way your father treats your mother.” Yet this is a man who was married to a woman for 60 years, who gave her everything, who was a basket case whenever things went south for her, including plowing through 2 million dollars to help her be comfortable in her dying days. What I mean by bring this up is that it is far wiser to assume that one’s observations about another person, let alone a whole family, especially in a relatively brief moment in time, is going to be short-sighted. You may feel frustrated by whatever it is you see out there, but there’s really not all much you or anyone can do about it.
Another very small example. I was visiting a town I used to live in. A small but sophisticated college town, and quite enlightened in the sort of services available to people there. An acquaintance’s mother was at a retirement home. And when she visited, she was asked by one of the staff to think about closure, and what things her mother might want to think about and work through before she died. This daughter, a quite intelligent caring person, was flummoxed and found the whole thing absurd, saying in effect, there are all sorts of things you could choose. How are you suppose to choose and why? Why not just leave her alone?
What otherwise is a personal matter, a personal choice and just plain personal becomes if I may say so, something of a disgrace, by the interference of this nurse or dying expert or whomever it was. All such a thing does is paradoxically cause more question and even otherwise undeserved guilt because you haven’t helped someone die “correctly”.