One of my parishioners has been fighting cancer for years. At this point he is no longer receiving chemo, the tumor is growing, and he has been given only months to live. The other day he made an appointment and asked to talk. After awhile of (relatively) idle chatter he asked me, “Is there anything I need to do?”
Umm…in terms of…?
“Before I die.”
Only you can determine that.
“What do you mean?”
I mean, only you can determine what you want to do, what your priorities are.
“I mean, how do I die well?”
Well, I think that dying well is mostly about living well.
“What do you mean?”
I mean that the dying part is pretty simple, we can’t control it…whether we have one day, or ten years, but what we can control is how well we live. To die well is to live well.
“I’m not sure I understand.”
I took a death and dying class in college, and we read a couple of books, ‘Tuesdays with Morrie’ and ‘The Death of Ivan Illych.’ Have you read Tuesdays with Morrie?
“No. But I think I’ve heard of it.”
Well, Tuesdays with Morrie is about a student and a professor that reunite years later. The professor, Morrie, has Lou Geirig’s and the student, Mitch, learns about it and starts visiting, and goes to see Morrie every Tuesday until he dies. Morrie embraces life and spends time with people, he works on living well as he nears death. The other book is “The Death of Ivan Illych” and he is sick and dying and won’t let anyone in to visit. He closes himself off and focuses on dying. He basically stops living as he nears death. So, dying well is really about living well.
Our conversation continued to talk about how well I think he lives. How fully he embraces life and does the things he loves. I also talked about how (if it’s known) in the last few days of life there are things he/we can do to help make him comfortable and help usher him into the next life in peace surrounded by love.
I don’t think any of us wants to die, nevertheless it can be easy to be consumed with thoughts of death (out of fear or out of depression), but dying well isn’t really about death at all, it’s about life and how fully we choose to live with however many days we are granted.
Here’s to life D.R.!