This I Believe

Gail - Waltham, Massachusetts
Entered on May 17, 2006
Age Group: 50 - 65
Themes: death

I believe everyone deserves to die a good death. I didn’t really understand what that meant until I held my mother’s hand as she succumbed to pancreatic cancer 3 years ago. In my grief and exhaustion later that day, while eating at a dear friend’s home, she commented that my mother had a “good death”. She could actually say this after spending all night with me the night before washing out my mother’s nightgown time after time, singing to her when I couldn’t, and just sitting with her so I could get a few hours sleep. How could her death be good, I thought? She didn’t live past the age of 72, young by today’s standards. She had a particularly painful form of cancer and required such a high amount of pain medication that even her experienced hospice nurses told me they had never had a patient that needed such intense pain management.

As I thought back over the last 6 months I realized she was right. My mother was able to express her wishes in a living will, she entered hospice and was able to spend her last months at home, being taken care of alternately by her 4 children and dear friends.

I suppose if we thought about it, we would all have our own idea of what a “good death” is. Does living a “good life” insure we’ll have a “good death”? No, I’m sure this is not the case. Is it going suddenly, with no pain? Or is it more desirable to have the fore knowledge so that one is able to make things right?

All of these questions were brought to mind as a friend of mine died of brain cancer earlier today. Did she have a good death? I don’t know. I do know that she was cheerful and upbeat as she tirelessly attended all of her son’s musical performances, even going on a recent trip to New York City for a competition. Two weeks before she died she spent the entire day volunteering at a music festival hosted by our children’s high school choral group. She gave up her usual mid-day rest so as to not miss a minute.

In the last few moments of my mother’s life, I held one hand while her closest friend held the other. I kissed her forehead while saying the names of each member of our extended family and told her they loved her. Then she took her last breath. This, I believe, was a good death.