In Joan Halifax’s Being With Dying, she wrote* . . .
World religions scholar Huston Smith once told the story of a well-known psychologist, an ornery old man close to death. One morning, as he was struggling to get to the toilet, a nurse tried to help him. He snapped back at her, “I can do it myself!” Then he dropped to the floor dead.
Smith used this story to illustrate just how defensive about needing help we are often are. He called this reaction ‘the porcupine effect.’
I agree with Smith’s “porcupine effect,” or . . . don’t touch me! Over the years of working with those close to death (and those caring for them) I have frequently heard a variation of the phrase: how you live is how you die. That may not be as true when death happens because of a car accident or an earthquake, but still . . .
During life, some are ornery like Smith’s “well-known psychologist,” and that’s exactly what they are like as they approach death. All humans are many things. Gentle. Crude. Fearful. Talkative. Stoic. Finger-pointers. Self-deprecating. Calm. Anxious. Generous. Miserly. The list of the ways we describe ourselves, or others describe us, is lengthy. But we’re never one thing. We are a stew of emotions, a tossed salad of reactions, a buffet overflowing with contradictions.
But I think most are stubborn. (Or call it ornery.) We are gentle, kind, and stubborn. We are fearful, secretive, and stubborn. We are self-deprecating, touchy-feely, and, yes, stubborn.
- Don’t help me.
- I don’t want your assistance.
- I can do it on my own.
- Leave me alone.
- Add your own human warning label: _____________________