very interesting thoughts on deciding when to die got me to thinking.
I think there is a difference in the ways people do meet their end. There are so many ways. It has to do with attitude. Of course, when it is sudden, accidental and unexpected, all there is is shock and grief for the survivors. No, I'm talking about the slow and expected end, whether from old age or disease.
The terrible struggles all parties involved in the Terry Schiavo
case are a testimony to the difficulty of the issues. If anything, one hopes that it has made people aware of the need for open discussions with one's loved ones regarding dying and appointing a power-of-attorney for personal care decisions.
Those discussions are not that easy to initiate. My children, for example, do not want to discuss the subject. They know, they say, what my wishes are, they've heard me discuss similar subjects often enough. They want to cut the conversation short, particularly when it is as specific
as my wishes, they want to change the subject, anything but really discuss what might happen and what decisions might have to be made.
Legal documents are pretty dry and not that precise, at least the ones I've seen, that refer to end-of-life issues, or situations where the individual is no longer able to make his/her wishes known. I have seen families pretty confused and divided and guilty during the decision-making process and after, no matter what the outcome!
The level of intimacy and understanding can vary hugely from one family member to another and with each differing point of view, some pretty bad misunderstandings can arise, a lot of bad feeling and anger. The understanding required involves not only an understanding of the individual dying with his/her personality, values, beliefs, etc, but of the medical realities, procedures, options, prognoses. Add to that family members and others who wish to see what they
believe to be the right thing done--and each person has their
own personalities, values, beliefs, with their own need or not to impose their desires or to cooperate or not with other family members. It can be so very dreadful.
I have seen some terrible suffering and fear on the part of the dying one also, but not often. It has been the rare person who, if he/she is cognizant, does not come to certain terms, even friendly terms with death, letting go of life peacefully, over time. The person who leaves all sorts of stipulations for those who will live on, leaves a terrible legacy, trying to control a changing world and changing circumstances that they cannot possible foresee, even after their passing. And the worst has been the irrational, nerve-wracking fear of certain individuals who suddenly are facing an unknown that for perhaps the first time in their lives, they cannot control. The terrible manipulations those individuals put their families and caretakers through just cannot be described.
And yet, I've seen some pretty beautiful dying going on. Families draw closer, talk about things that have needed to be said, make decisions about a better future, enjoy sharing good memories. It may seem strange, but I have heard laughter many, many times coming from the sick-room of a dying person. Great, healthy laughter!
It is a natural process, after all, no matter how science and medicine and technology have been used to outwit or at least delay the inevitable. I've often joked that I want to/have to live to be at least 350 years old (I heard a Chinese master or two have achieved that) in order to have the time to do all the things I have dreamed of doing! But I have met many people very advanced in years who tell me they are tired. They have lived enough and are ready to die.
The observable signs and symptoms are more or less supposed to be measurable. But how does one measure an attitude, a mental state, a spiritual decision? So I doubt science has documented cases of the above. Dying is scientifically measured by measurable changes in the normal physiological states, breathing, heart rate, body temperature, etc.
How does one measure the mental/spiritual/emotional shift that takes place, that can be found in many an anecdotal report, just before a person dies? I have seen the decision-making process
to die confused, hastened and/or even delayed by drugs and other medical interventions, but I have seen many clear decisions made, to die, to let go, to say goodbye to this life.
I don't think it is necessary for a healthy person, even though elderly, to take certain actions (ie, suicide) to hasten death. I have seen people die before my very eyes by simply making the decision to die. Life stopped.
That may seem unbelievable to many, but I guarantee you, talk to a few people, and they will tell you stories about this very thing. What makes a person make that decision? Is it right or wrong? I don't really know if it is right or wrong for that person at that time. I don't even know if it is necessary to die, per se. Maybe there are other options, even though staying in this life might no longer be one.
I don't know if there is an arbitrary number of years one should live--no. I don't even know if there is a certain wisdom one achieves, and then, it is time to die. No. But in reading writers like Carlos Castaneda and others, I have started to wonder if there aren't other dimensions one simply moves into, if one is a true shaman, walking into heaven as it were, just like Enoch in the Bible.