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Lessons on Dying

Posted 10/17/2016

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  This is a short introduction to the marvelous essay of this same title by Susan Gubar in The New York Times. In it, she describes the choices made by two women in her cancer support group. Their perspectives and decisions were very different from one another: one trying to extend life for every possible moment, and the other almost trying to efficiently get dying over with.

  Over the years, I have been privileged to observe many women making the best possible choices, in horrible circumstances, for themselves and their families. I think of Marilyn who made all of her funeral arrangements and purposefully chose the funeral home that was further from her home so that her daughter would not have to walk by it every day on her way to school. I think of Claire who chose to spend her final weeks in a residential hospice to spare her husband and adult children the burden of being responsible for her care. I think of Ellen who made that same decision because her children were very young, and she didn't want them to live right in the middle of her dying. I think of Joan who, with similar family circumstances, made the exact opposite choice, staying home, because she wanted her young children to be part of her dying and, maybe, to be less fearful of death when their time comes. I think of all the women who opted for every possible treatment, often at the expense of having many side effects and a pretty poor QOL. And I think of the all the women who, at some point, said: "Enough", and chose to concentrate on living as comfortably as possible for the rest of the natural duration of their lives.

  I think of all the splendid women who have been leaders and guides in this process, who have lovingly taught me and others who to think about and how to manage the end of our lives. As Carol recently said: "They set a very high bar", and I am trying to reach it.

  From Ms. Gubar:

Lessons on Dying From David Bowie and My Friends
Living With Cancer

After David Bowie released a video about his cancer death, I realized that two members of my support group had been conducting tutorials on dying with me. Their teaching styles differed, as did the content of their courses, but I was privileged to be able to learn from them that there are many ways of dying and no set right way.
One member of my group, a public presence in our small town because of her articles in the local paper,
informed our group that she would not be attending meetings any longer. Having decided that further medical
interventions could not extend the quantity of her life without harming its quality, Carrol enrolled in hospice at
home. Once she was set up in a hospital bed with a port and a catheter, I began visiting Carrol, who wanted to hasten her dying not only for herself but for her husband and son as well. Looking remarkably hale, she had stopped eating, though she continued drinking water. With characteristic wit, she posted a blog on the foods she most enjoyed remembering as she began what turned into a lengthy fast.

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