Kelly had been a real touchy-feely all her life, so her choice about how she wanted to go surprised me–but, as I reminded her distraught daughters, it was her choice that mattered.
It’s become trendy nowadays to make our last days into something of a memorial smorgasborg. We’re encouraged to write poems to our grandkids, pen autobiographies, collect items special to us and share them with those closest to us as our days come to a close. Videos with good-byes for present and unborn generations become a permanent tribute.
Kelly was having none of it, despite her daughters’ needs. She didn’t want to address her upcoming death, didn’t want to discuss her illness, didn’t want a huge anniversary celebration with her husband with all the family after what turned out to be her last treatment, didn’t want to earmark certain treasures for each grandchild–in short, she wanted to go in silence.
And that is how Kelly went, in the end, quietly–her daughter still yearning for that special goodbye.
When I met with the daughters for bereavement counseling, we discussed this deepest of concepts: We can’t choose the cause or the year our deaths, but we do have the right to pick the way we surrender to illness–and it is a right no one else should infringe upon.
We know the stories of the family member who, even though in a coma, appears to wait for death until a relative arrives from out of town. Another terminally ill person seems to chose the opposite; although the family has been doing the bedside vigil for days, the patient dies when everyone else leaves the room for a few moments to speak to the doctor.
How we die is very personal. It’s possible to know yourself in a deeper way than psychological wisdom thinks it knows you.
Go your own way.