LIVING AND DYING
The NY Times published an essay by Dr, Sunita Puri, entitled, “As a Doctor, I Know Being Ready to Die Is an Illusion” (April 1, 2023) Here is a link to the article:
Here is my response to the NY Times with a brief observation after the letter.
“Dying and death are two very different experiences. Dying is a process in which we, the living, are all involved in, moving ever closer to death one day at a time. How we die at the end may well be determined by how we have lived with the knowledge that death is coming, ready or not. Better to have done some planning and be ready, than not. We have an opportunity to have meaningful conversations about both dying and death with our families, close friends, and others, perhaps a wise doctor, counselor, or therapist, priest or rabbi.
There are signs of increasing numbers of people choosing when and how to die through VSED (Voluntary Stopping Eating and Drinking), similar to physician assisted death now legal in Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Maine, Vermont and New Jersey. Certain conditions must be met to facilitate this latter process and each state has its own requirements. When you understand and accept you are dying it appears to be a totally different experience than not talking about it or suppressing the thoughts and feelings associated with this life experience that everyone will have.
I recommend that those who haven’t read Oliver Sack’s book “Gratitude” have a look for another perspective on dying and death. Sacks knew he was not long for this world and said, “I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written. I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers. Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.”
We choose how we live. Why not choose how we die?
Gary R. Gruber”
I was amused by Woody Allen’s observation, “I don’t mind dying, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” What I would say to Woody is that none of us are going to miss this end of life experience. We can decide whether we will resist or welcome the experience by doing some preparation and planning ahead of time, when possible. It is not always possible in the case of unplanned and unexpected end of life tragedies which we have seen too much of lately.
45,000 died by gunshots in 2020, 46,000 died by suicide, 35,766 fatal motor vehicle crashes in the United States in 2020 in which 38,824 deaths occurred. One has to wonder how many of these could have been avoided had their been better preventive measures in place. And remember Covid that claimed over 1.000,000 lives.
Yes, indeed – ‘dying’ and ‘death’ are two entirely different experiences, as you have pointed out so well. It is said that ‘dying’ happens with every cycle of breathing while we are alive, and ‘death’ happens when the in-breath does not follow the out-breath… it would be useful to talk about and plan for our death, and yet we don’t or won’t, because we often choose to live and act within the illusion that it is going to happen to us at all!
Agreed! I think for many people it is a matter of fear, whether fear of the unknown or fear of pain and suffering closer to the end, fear of loved ones having to go through a most difficult and challenging experience or whatever.It is probably different for different people depending on their philosophy, values and life practices. One issue seems to be the unwillingness or inability of people to talk openly and honestly about death and dying, perhaps due to the cultural norms surrounding how we deal with this in our families and communities. I remember a book years ago by Jessica Mitford called “The American Way of Death” which was an exposé of what I called then our superficial dealing with death.