Will you Die Gracefully?

A blog friend so graciously provided me with this story – “Why Doctors Die Differently” – in response to a post about euthanasia I wrote a few weeks back.  In the post author Ken Murray, a physician himself, gives a very touching and thoughtful account of realities of death.  So I figured I would revisit the idea myself.

Why are doctors planning for death when the rest of us are ignoring it?

In a survey of 765 doctors, they found that 64% had created an advanced directive—specifying what steps should and should not be taken to save their lives should they become incapacitated. That compares to only about 20% for the general public.

Maybe those figures aren’t surprising, but what is – is that doctors aren’t asking to be given every opportunity to be kept alive, but rather often choose to die gracefully.  Recently an acquaintance’s mother died in the hospital.  She spent a week in the hospital and several painful surgeries (one of which finally killed her) trying to get well – which was almost surely futile.

Would it have been better to had spent her last days at home, with loved ones, comfortable, and to die with grace?  I think so, but others disagree.  A lot of people I’ve talked to say that not fighting for life when there is even a .0001% chance of success is “sinful”.  That every resource should be exhausted to defend life.  I believe that sounds good in theory, but isn’t practical or maybe even moral.

For one, we can’t ignore the facts (which apparently doctors know) – keeping someone alive is expensive and painful – for everyone involved.  The unnecessary burden one puts on their family fighting a losing battle is something I could never bare to put my family through.  What’s more, is 99.9% of the time it’s all for nothing.  Ignoring the cold hard truth about death is ignoring a part of life – how we swallow that pill will make all the difference.

Fear of Death

Death is scary.  I mean it petrifies me sometimes.  I know that one day I will no longer exist.  I will be gone.  What’s worse it that I do not know how it will happen.  I might die of cancer, sickness, old age, painfully, peaceful, suddenly – who knows?  It’s a reality though – that’s no doubt.  Everyone we ever knew, ever will know, ever has existed, and will exist – will die.

On the other hand I think there is some peace in that.  We will be in good company.  Whether we fade into the abyss of darkness or there are others to greet us on the other side is sort of irrelevant.   We’ll all find out soon enough.  So soon in the grand scheme of things.  I think of Carl Sagan when he talks about the pale blue dot – our planet – a tiny speck in the Universe.  So insignificant when you think about it.

Death isn’t that scary when you put it in perspective.

Die Gracefully

What’s unusual about doctors is not how much treatment they get compared with most Americans, but how little.

For me, I’m not going fight the inevitable. I’m not going to prolong the pain of my final days – forcing my loved ones to change my diapers while I’m unconscious. Rather – I hope I have the courage to face it. To smile at death as it comes right at me. Not in anger, but in acceptance of the inevitable part of life that will meet us all.

I’ll enjoy my family like never before. I’ll say my good-byes and love unconditionally. I’ll make my peace and settle my business, but not on death’s terms – rather on my own – with dignity. That’s how its supposed to be, I think.


4 thoughts on “Will you Die Gracefully?

  1. Valerie

    I haven’t had to confront this idea until recently, as I am undergoing testing for a rare form of melanoma. I am 38 years old, not married, no children. I think if I am given a grim diagnosis, I will choose to live the rest of my days in joy rather than in misery trying to fight with chemo, radiation, surgery, etc. We are all going to die, that’s a fact. If it is now or later, does it really matter? At least with a diagnosis, the reality of death is more concrete and we can do a better job of living than we ever did before.

    1. Atticus Finch Post author

      To take that a step further – if you are not diagnosed with any sort of cancer (fingers crossed) what’s stopping you from living your life like you were? Like you said, what does it matter when you die? Live the rest of your life with joy regardless of if your last day is tomorrow or 100 years from now. Live with that same appreciation of life – even though its hard to do that sometimes.

  2. Pingback: Best of 2012 – February « BlogTruth

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