Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Best Death

We had a talk about death last night. It was a good talk. In fact, a great talk. Death is an open conversation for us. It’s always there weaving in and out of every conversation and through our running chats about food and books and friends and politics and yes, sex.

But there was something else last night. Cancer, I’m sure, opened the conversation, but somehow we went deeper than before. We talked about the how of death, and would we help each other die, and how would we know we were ready. What part would be pain, and what part would be exhaustion, and what part would be a sense of readiness?

And all day today as I went back to that conversation I realized something new—something that has changed for me and that, maybe, is also a bit of acceptance.

For so many years—especially in my younger years—I always imagined that a sudden death and an unexpected quick death would be the very best kind. When we play that hypothetical, “How would you like to die?” game I’d always thought that a plane crash or explosion or something sudden and relatively painless would be the way to go. I’ve heard many others say, “die in my sleep” or “die in my lover’s bed” or “die in my recliner watching my team win”…all to suggest that a fast, unexpected death would be the best kind.

But today I realized that I want more from death than that. Maybe this comes from being a control freak, or maybe its because I love process, or maybe it’s because I really do want to place each of my scarves in a friend’s hands—but I want time to know when I will die. I want to know it will be six months or six weeks. I would choreograph each of those scenarios very differently. I want to say good-bye and give my things to specific people. I want to make love dying. I want to say words and hand out books.

And given all of that I realized something about cancer that I never considered before: It may be the very best way to die. Cancer, for the most part, gives warning. Many cancers have some kind of timetable. Cancer lets you have at least a little time to say, “Wow, here we go. This is really going to happen. What do I want now?”

For all the war against this thing and all the battles waged, and all the agendas that insist we should have no cancer consider this: If you accept that you will die, and you know you will die of something, cancer could be the best way to die.

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