Archive for Death

How Long Have You Been Playing?

At the net

A man and a woman were several courts over… [Photo Credit: Getty IMages/Tim Clayton]

In hospice, time rules.

A hospital’s old-fashioned wall clock’s blood-red second hand seems to circle faster than a Daytona racecar. Or in the dark of the darkest night at home, a blue, glowing digital number blinks from one second to another with an agonizing sluggishness. Time roars by. Time grinds to a halt. Time marches on. Time freezes. Time is our friend. Time is our adversary. Time never stops. It’s never the right time.

  • How long will it take for her to die? I don’t want Grammy to suffer anymore.
  • The doctor said Daddy has six months or less to live. Is that true?
  • This grief is horrible, and I can’t sleep or eat. How long before I’m “normal” again?
  • Some friends don’t like to spend time with me because I still want to talk about my spouse. And it’s only been a year since the death.
  • My boss gave me two weeks off for bereavement, but will I ever be ready to return to my desk?
  • Who can grieve with so much work to do? (And if I keep working all of the time, I can avoid my feelings.)

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Many years ago, I headed to the public tennis courts to play a few sets with a buddy. Though early in the morning, we weren’t the only ones there. A man and woman were several courts over, already deep into a match. As my friend and I warmed up, we heard the other players announce the score after each winning shot, saw them protect the net or drift back for lobs. It looked like an equal contest and I wouldn’t want to bet against the woman or the man. I was impressed, more than a little awed by their skill and energy. Both were obviously in their seventies. Read More →

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Comparing That Death to This Death

Robin Williams and Matt Damon in 1997’s Good Will Hunting.

Which death is the most difficult to death with? On the list below, which person should be in “better shape” and has probably “moved on” in their life?

  • Her child was stillborn. It’s a year since the death.
  • His grandmother died from dementia. It’s a year since the death.
  • Their teen was killed in a traffic accident. It’s a year since the death.
  • Children gather to honor a father’s birthday. It’s a year since the death.
  • She lays a Christmas wreath on her husband’s grave. It’s a year since the death.

How would you rank them? (Should you rank them?)

Unfortunately, I think many folks—including me—publicly or privately rank the severity of another’s person’s situation. We compare and contrast with other facets of life: careers, homes, our child’s achievements, cars, last year’s vacation, and so forth. Advertising relentlessly reinforces judgment, from the new solar panels on the neighbor’s roof to the newest smartphone in a classmate’s hand. The people beside you or across the street or in the pharmaceutical commercial are better off than you. (Or, whew, they are a smidgen worse than you!)

If we compare the things of life, why not compare the ways of death? Read More →

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Do You Want to Die?

From HBO’s Band of Brothers

In the opening moments of our weekly hospice team meetings we report on recent patient deaths. How is the family doing? Who was with the person when she died? Was the mortuary and physician informed of his death? If a patient fell during her hospice stay, was the coroner contacted (even the most benign of stumbles requires legal notification)? Did she have a peaceful death? The final words on the medical chart summarizing patients’ deaths are intentionally brief and accurate, not much longer than this paragraph.

As we finished the report on a patient, a nurse spontaneously added, “She died quickly, which is what she wanted because she didn’t want a long, drawn-out death.”

The nurse’s final comment wasn’t necessary for the sparse report. I recollect the patient died comfortably, with family at the bedside. All went as well as possible. But I caught myself wondering: Don’t we all hope to die quickly?

Would anyone want to have a “long, drawn-out death?”

Indeed, who wants to die? I don’t. Read More →

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