We all know our days are numbered. We try to live as best and as right as we can until the instant arrives when we are no longer relatively alive. Is it better to die without foreknowledge? Or is it best to have time to put your affairs in order, say your good-byes, and wait for death to take your hand?
Molly Tennyson is a hospice worker — a facilitator, if you will, between the barely living and the inevitable grave — and she bluntly explains to one of her cancer patients just how death will seek him out:
“So how does this dying thing work? What’s going to happen?” he asked. He wanted the truth, so I gave it to him.
“You are going to begin taking more naps during the day,” I told him. “You will sleep for longer periods and eventually you will sleep more than you are awake. You will lose your appetite gradually, and you do not have to force yourself to eat. Try to eat calorically dense foods, or just eat ice cream if you want. Walk if you feel like it, rest if you feel like it. You will get weak, you may need a walker and a shower chair. And when you can’t do that, we will bathe you in bed. There may or may not be pain. If there is pain, we have medicine for it. If there is agitation, we have medicine for that too. We have medicine to fix everything, except for the death part, of course. Eventually you will develop secretions in your lungs and mouth, otherwise known as the ‘death rattle,’ and we have medicine for that, too. But regardless, there is nothing at all to fear, because we have something for everything and I will be right next to you.”
How many of us would be able to deal with death like that in a hands-on, get yourself dirty sort of way? There’s no breathable distance between the dying and the dead. There’s no diagnostic result to hide behind — it’s you, and your dying patient, and death — and it’s incredibly powerful and real and humbling and we should all be so lucky to have someone like Molly who is there to hold our hand in our last moment of human contemplation.