On October 2, 1986, I sat on my mother’s bed as she lay comatose, wasting away from throat cancer. The doctor didn’t understand why she hadn’t died weeks, if not months, before. I cried and told her it was okay to go, then left for the 40-mile drive home to my nine-month pregnant wife. She died peacefully that night.
Early one Friday night in late September 2013, my friend Joan called me. “Tonight is the night, Will, can you come stay with me?” Joan died around 6:00 a.m. the following morning.
I have a friend, mid 70s, who says he is “deathing,” withdrawing from the world and his attachments to it, preparing for his time of passing, though he has no certainty of when this might happen, resolving only not to renew the battery on his 10-plus-year-old pacemaker.
If each of us knew the hour of our passing, might we make different choices about how we will live? What about the person in hospice care, assuming they still have their mind? I visit a hospice client I was assigned to: late 90s, clear of mind, frail of body, but with no health problems. No spouse, no children, only two relatives, one near and one far, who keep in occasional touch by telephone and the rare visit. “I’m ready,” she says. Yet she is convinced that she cannot choose the time of her passing. And so, she sits each day, quietly, comfortably alone most of the time.
In contemplating how we might prepare for death, we can be distracted by the needs of others. Make a will, do an estate plan, buy long term care insurance. What do you want, they ask, when what they often mean is take the burden of making decisions off us.
And so, it seems, there is no universal way to prepare for death. Death is individual and unique. With or without suffering. Sudden or gradual, traumatic or easy, alone or surrounded by loved ones. What seems most common and therefore most likely is that the planning and preparation we engage in for ourselves comes late or not at all.
And so, I say
Prepare for death
In your own way
Leave the details
Harvest what is left
Of this life
As if it was the last crop
Of the old season
… the first of the new