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Fall and Thinking about Dying

Posted 10/23/2015

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  It is a gorgeous late fall day in New England. Some of the trees are now bare, but others are shimmering in their red or yellow or golden glory. I sometimes pass by a tree that is so spectacular that I feel it should be a temple; one could build a life or a faith around a tree like that. I have been thinking about the metaphor of this autumn magnificence and wondering what we are supposed to learn from it. Are the trees giving one final glorious thank you for life or are they suggesting that the end of life can also be beautiful? Or both?

  That is a not so smooth introduction to two wonderful essays, very different from one another, but both pondering these questions. The first is from Susan Gubars and addresses the growing national movement around assisted suicide or legal suicide or "I want to be able to make my own choice when the time comes." The second is a short and so very lovely essay from Kaiulani Facciani, a woman who is living with metastatic breast cancer. I hope you read both.

Deciding about Dying

Fifty-five years ago, when I was 15, my mother made me promise that I would not commit suicide. I intend to keep that promise if and when I ask a doctor for passive assistance — ending life-sustaining support — or for active help: palliative sedation or a lethal prescription. To my mind, treating cancer pain aggressively even when it accelerates the dying process should not be equated with suicide.

Because the prospect of a protracted dying with ovarian disease scares me, I am grateful for activists who are beginning to address the issues of the terminally ill. Versions of Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act have been adopted in Washington, Vermont and Montana, and will soon be legalized in California. Yet physician-assisted dying remains illegal in my state, as in most, for reasons that I can comprehend but that do not pertain to the needs and wants of some — though certainly not all — incurable cancer patients.

I stand alone… 
 by Kaiulani Facciani

  I stand alone, surrounded by shadowy figures. Like clay soldiers from an ancient Chinese army, they are silent symbols of fallen warriors. Every time I turn around, there are more. Diagnosed after me with prognoses better than mine, they have left me behind. I fight back tears and try not to give in to suffocating feelings of doom and despair. May they find as much joy and love in their next assignment as they brought to this one. Because every one of them deserves, perhaps more than I, to be breathing here beside me, and they are not… Because of the brave battles that they waged… Because I don’t truly understand why I’m still standing… I will battle on. For them… And for all of my sweet fellow warriors who know exactly what I am feeling. As I sit here listening to Robert Earl Keen, I am reminded that the road goes on forever, and the party never ends.


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