|The last stage of life as Thomas Cole saw it.|
The life force runs strong. It's both mighty and tenuous, a paradoxical truth. That instinct creates in many humans an inability to understand death, or even believe in death though we see it every day in some form or another and most of us know in our minds at least that some day each of us will pass away.
When people or animals we love die, the first reaction in many cases is shock, even if it was expected, also relief if the person or animal was suffering terribly before dying. To the living, death is incomprehensible, perhaps as it should be.
Death is as fundamentally mysterious and, in its own way, miraculous, as conception and birth, it surely is. Unless you are murdered, no one can guess the day of your passing, no, not even doctors who deliver the famous: "You've got (fill in amount of time) to live."
My mother-in-law was very ill with lymphoma. She was treated by the finest oncologists at Yale Medical Center. She just got sicker and sicker, dwindled down to almost nothing. When they told her she had just a few weeks to live, she stopped all chemotherapy and other treatment, decided to enjoy her final weeks.
She lived six more years!
I could tell many more stories like this, but I'm sure you've got stories of your own, about people who were supposed to die but didn't, also young, healthy people who died unexpectedly of ailments no one could have guessed they were suffering from.
A friend's father is old, frail and sick with Parkinson's. The disease has now destroyed his ability to swallow. He will never eat again. The man is well into his eighties and only sporadically lucid. The doctors are asking if my friend wants to have a feeding tube inserted in his father's belly, to keep him alive a little longer. My friend of course does not wish to make this decision, feels it isn't his to make - and in truth, it isn't, but we live in a time/space in which decisions we are not qualified to make come up time and again.
He tried to get his father to say what he wanted. For a few days his dad said he didn't want the tube, he was ready for Hospice, but then he asked a nurse one morning about his weight loss, said he was concerned because he can no longer eat and wondered about options. The nurses have opinions, the doctors have opinions - my friend has no idea what is best/right/humane. I wouldn't know what to do either.
There are ways to gracefully pass away, for those coherent enough and brave enough to choose them. My friend's father is completely unprepared for his passing, as are many. I don't blame him.
Here's a link to the Center for End of Life Transitions, an organization devoted to planning home funerals. I learned about it from Layne Redmond's site. She is a frame drummer extraordinaire who brought a very particular and magical wavelength into feminist spirituality beginning in the 1980s. She channeled something so pure! She has been suffering from cancer and is now preparing for her transition from this life to whatever happens afterwards. I really admire her, now more than ever.
Here's a post I wrote last year that I thought was about making end of life decisions, but readers thought was about Hospice. Thinking about dying is mind-boggling, but well worth contemplating. Humans everywhere from the north pole to the south pole for 100,000 years and probably longer have tried to understand. It's good for us to try, even though it's likely we'll never really get it until the moment of our own passing. We have to try.
Well worth watching the first minute to see her play. Always with the smile.