So, I had been intending to write a piece about “redesigning the Death Spiral” and the concept of A Good Death. And right then, I got walloped upside the head and heart with a Bad Death.
In the simplest terms, a Good Death would be one that is foreseen and well-prepared for, so that the dying person and their loved ones have a chance to talk about what should be done before, during, and after the actual process of dying to help everyone involved confront the inevitable and help us grieve. When we’ve watched a loved one suffer great pain and loss through illness and injury, and the end draws near, its arrival can be seen as a bit of a blessing: the end of physical suffering and the release of the spirit from an incapicitated physical body.
But when death comes quickly, unexpectedly, and far earlier than we had considered possible for a person, we lose some of that opportunity to shift our perspective into acceptance. So it was just recently with my cousin Gwen’s death. One day, she was alive and vital, brimming with life — and then she was gone. She lingered in coma 10 days, but that hardly helped prepare any of us to say good-bye to her.
So, I’m left gut-punched by a Bad Death just as I am spending more time contemplating the aspects of a Good Death. It was almost like the “parentheses” of Mike Eddy’s and Granny’s deaths — but in reverse. It feels both unfair and yet somehow horribly appropriate. For without the specter of a Bad Death, most of us would still prefer to keep Death & Dying off to the side and not have to consider anything about our own. And it is that avoidance response, so strong behaviorally, that handicaps us in the search for a Good Death.
I will return to write more about death and dying again in the future. It is, after all, one of the few topics we all share in common. Meanwhile, I will grieve for Gwen’s death. In consoling myself and others, I was reminded of what a work colleague said to me after the death of my 5-year-old niece, Jessie (the death of a child is rarely a “Good Death”). Pam shared with me that her twin sister had been killed in a car wreck at age 19 many years before, and said, “I can tell you the pain itself will never really go away. With time, it will come less often and pass more quickly, but the pain itself will never go away.”
Each death serves as a reminder that we are all temporary here.
We must love & cherish each other everyday.