The Mortality Club

A Good Way to Die

June 19, 2016

Tags: terminal cancer, mortal, death, fear, dying, life

Is there such a thing as a good way to die? I believe there is. When a person dies with few or no regrets about the way they lived their lives, that is a good death. When a person can say as they lay dying, “If I had it to do all over again, I wouldn’t do it any differently,” that is a good death. When a person can continue to celebrate life right to the moment they draw their last breath, that is a good way to die.

Is it necessary to have gotten over the fear of death in order to die well? I don’t think so. In fact, I think it is impossible to completely rid ourselves of the fear of death unless, of course, we believe so utterly in Heaven and in a Life Everlasting that death itself is a mere interruption, and not an end. Unfortunately, most mortals do not enjoy that total degree of faith. Thus, because we don’t know what happens to us when we can no longer inhabit our physical bodies, we must experience an element of fear. Or, as my anthropologist husband says, “Everyone’s afraid of dying. It’s hard-wired into the species.” That does not have to deprive us of a good death.

Recently I came across a passage written by Oliver Sacks. Dr. Sacks was both a neurologist and a prolific writer who was fascinated by the workings of the brain and its ramifications on the way we live. Among his better known books are The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat and Awakenings.

In February, 2015, he learned that an ocular tumour had metastasized to his liver and brain. He was told the cancer was incurable and untreatable, and that he would be dead within a matter of months.

Like a true Sage, Dr. Sacks was able to momentarily transcend his ego and fears in order to observe and comment on the state of his own psyche as he prepared to die. His words inspire me, and make it easier for me to accept that I am a mortal being who will die. His words lessen the fear and, in so doing, heighten my ability to celebrate life right to the end. (more…)

Selected Works

Psychology/Aging and Dying
In youth we are invincible. The world is forever: we are forever. But, sentient creatures that we are, time inevitably plays its part. Aging and illness shadow those early sensibilities until one day we feel the lurking presence of death itself. Fearful of our own dark thoughts, too often we keep such anxieties to ourselves. To deny our own mortality is a parlor game of sorts, played within our own heads and frequently played alone. Pamela Cuming will have none of it. In her latest book, The Hourglass, she throws back the parlor curtains and lets the light stream in. This is a powerful, objective, unflinching, and yet profoundly empathic work that explores the rewards of honest caring⎯the privilege and the pain⎯not only for one’s friends and family but also for one’s self. Drawing upon an uncanny intuitive understanding of human foible plus a broad knowledge of character development, honed from decades of consulting in the business world, this is a book filled with personal stories both engaging and instructive. In short, The Hourglass is a must read for all those who seek to live life to the full, from start to finish. ________________ Peter C. Whybrow MD, Director of the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Beavior at UCLA and award-winning author of The Well-Tuned Brain: Neuroscience and the Life Well Lived.
Fiction: Publication Date Nov 14, 2014
Set in New York City and Los Angeles between August 1999 and November 2001, The Stranger Box is the story of a mother and a daughter caught like two white dwarf stars in separate orbits, destined to collide. Though she does everything in her considerable power to insure the child never finds out who she is, the vain and self-obsessed Katherine Blair is unable to change the course of her destiny or evade Eden, the resourceful daughter whose pursuit is fueled by the desire for revenge and the determination to steal the family that has been denied her.
Memoir
Widow’s Walk is a bold, brave, and candid admission of bereavement, weakness, and, ultimately, strength.
Nonfiction
A strategic guide to organizational and personal effectiveness
Turf is a direct, and sometimes disturbing book about the use and abuse of power in organizations.

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