Follow Me On
The Woman in White Marble

{Click Marble or visit Books in the main menu}

Dis-Ease: Living with Prostate Cancer

{Click or visit Books in the main menu}

« Climate Change or My Last Cup of Coffee | Main | Death ~ There’s Something Bewildering about Nothingness »

Death ~ There’s Something to Dying Well

Death. Back by popular demand. Well, not exactly. I ended my last blog, Death ~ There's Something Bewildering about Nothingness, with these words:

If I get hit by that truck, I won’t have to worry about dying well. If I’m given a time line, then dying well will become paramount. But that’s another whole story.

Someone has suggested that I finish the story, not leave things hanging, and be finally done with death. So here it goes...

If one day I am told by a consultant in some hospital office that I have, let’s say, six months to live, one of my concerns will be whether or not I die well. I honestly think I should die well. Yes, I hear it – the “should” and the “ought” – two words that any good psychologist, minister, counsellor, wife, friend would tell me I shouldn’t succumb to, and certainly not while figuring out how to die. And yet...While acknowledging that the “shoulds” and the “oughts” can bring with them a heavy burden, it seems to me, given the magnitude of the issue, wanting to die well is not misplaced. Of course the obvious question is: What does it mean to me, for me, to die well?

Even before I begin to answer that question, I have a problem, and for those I am about to offend, please read on anyway. My problem is this: I’m sick of hearing about people dying well. Once they are told they are dying they are filled with the joys of life. Colours are more bright and intense. Birdsong is more beautiful and pure. They write poems, theologise and philosophise. They move family, friends and even strangers to wonder. And when the end finally comes, they die with a smile on their face. The standard is lifted high. They were courageous and faithful. They were impossibly magnificent in the face of death. Indeed, they embraced their death as they embraced their life.  

They drive me crazy. Don’t get me wrong. I admire them. Given my line of work I’ve known more than a few of them. I even sat with a couple of them when they died. My problem is, I don’t think I can do it. I think for me green will just be green  and blue will just be blue.  I think birdsong will just be birdsong, some will sound beautiful and others horrible. I don’t think I’ll have anything useful to say. I don’t think I will amaze anyone. And I can’t imagine I’ll be filled with the joys of life. Next to all these superhuman dying well people I will be one big fat failure at dying. I think there will be a big fucking cloud over my life, impacting everything I do, say and think. There will be no escape. My coming death will be the big, no the huge, “BUT” after everything. It’s a beautiful day, BUT. I love that music, BUT. This book is so interesting, “BUT.”

For good or ill, because of nature or nurture (or probably both), it’s the way I see the world, the way I’ve always seen the world. I can’t remember a time when there hasn’t been a “but.” It’s a beautiful day, but it’s going to rain tomorrow. That sort of thing. At times it has driven me crazy. But the “but” never goes away. The “but” doesn’t negate the wonder and beauty of life, but the “but” is always there sitting alongside me. (You can ponder the biochemical, psychological, philosophical and theological reasons for this if you want, but I’m not sure it would be a good use of your time.) In my experience people without a “but” see people with a “but” as negative, cynical, annoying, angry, crazy, pathological. On the other hand, people with a “but” see people who also have a “but” as realistic and reasonable. Of course neither is the whole truth. However (just a big word for but), here’s the point, I sincerely doubt the “but” will disappear when living towards my own death. How does a person with a “but” die well?

Perhaps the next question is this: So what? Who gives a damn if you die well? Why do you, Dale, give a damn if you die well? Because it’s my life and the manner in which I die will say something about my being and the way I lived. At least I think that is so. Besides, when I’m on my way out I would rather appreciate the moments and not despair the future. I would rather not be consumed with fear, sadness and bewilderment. I would rather live as best I can until I live no longer. I just don’t know if I’m capable of doing it.

I do wonder when people die well if all that they say and do, perhaps must say and do, is a true reflection of their reality. I can imagine that with my friends, acquaintances, on Facebook and Twitter, on YouTube and my website, at dinner in town, while walking in the park, talking in the telephone I could be very upbeat and philosophical about the whole thing. I mean, if I’m down about it, the people around me can hardly be up. Why burden them with more than the situation demands? The idea of death is burden enough. At the same time, however, at home in the privacy of my own heart, I could be lost in a quagmire of despair and fear. I can see dark circles under my eyes and sleepless nights, because who wants to wake up every morning and remember they are dying. Not me. And maybe that is what dying well is. Joy to the world and sadness of heart. Both real and true, companions in living and dying.

I do know that, more than likely, I won’t die well if I have to die alone. Many of us do die alone, but if it can be avoided it should be avoided. In May 2012 I wrote a blog entitled Aging, Dung Beetles and Me. I was thinking about aging and the things that fill our lives. I ended that blog with these words:

The flat screen [TV] can’t hold your hand when you’re in pain. It can’t wash the sheets and make the bed when you can’t lift a feather. It can’t cook you a warm meal when you have no appetite. It can’t clean your body when you can’t move and you don’t really care. It can’t whisper in your ear when you are frightened. And it can’t say goodbye when it’s time for the world to end.

Only the love of another human being can do those things. Admittedly that love can come from any number of people. From a spouse, partner, friend and, yes, even a stranger. When I die, I hope someone will be around.

So, how will I die well?

  • Love people.
  • Try and maintain my dignity.
  • Include my wife and friends (or at least the friends who want to be included).
  • Never blame anyone who does not want to be included.
  • Cry when it is necessary.
  • Rage against all the gods ever created by humankind if it helps.
  • Remember everyone’s dying is unique. There is no gold standard.
  • Re-member my life, as much is as possible, but stop if sadness overwhelms.
  • Don’t worry how people will recall your dying. It won’t matter to me once I’m dead.
  • Say goodbye to the people and things that are precious to me.
  • Remember dying is not only necessary, it is natural.
  • Don’t worry about being courageous. Courage is only a burdensome construct.
  • If at all possible, do not be afraid. There is nothing to fear.

Copyright © 2014 Dale Rominger

Reader Comments

There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>