My patient declared as she lies on her death bed, “It’s ok, it will be a good death.” This unexpected phrase launched me on an inspiring quest for the secrets of a good death. I discovered wisdom and hope from those on the precipice of awareness of their own mortality. A good death is not an event, it is a lifestyle that I begin with each day and a faith grounded in the confidence of my future destination when my heart ceases to beat.
I have practiced medicine for thirty years as a hospitalist in the United States and as a medical missionary in Rwanda.
I have observed that the sojourn in this temporary bodysuit we wear may end slowly as a steam engine gathering death breaths and heard long before sighted. However, often it arrives as a semi-truck that has run a stop sign, abruptly ending the life of the promising.
Deep in our subconscious we know that we will one day be a client of Death and that a death date is on our calendar. Our hubris and youth and imaginative thoughts choose not to acknowledge this truth. However, in doing so, we go woefully unprepared for that date which could arrive tomorrow for no day is promised.
I reflected on my experience holding hands with the dying and their loved ones. Some were beautiful despite the grief which smothered the room. Others took that last inhale and they looked heavenward as pupils dilated and became flat though a slight smile embraced their face. A few filled me with deep sadness as they died alone with me as their only comfort or in an empty room as death reflected their life.
I also thought of those with severe sudden illnesses, grim prognoses, catastrophic accidents, or debility so life altering that I wondered if I would wish for death if I walked their suffering path. I cannot say for sure, however, the strongest, most purposeful, most life-affirming are those who find peace in their suffering, not after.
My patients, my friends and family, and my own suffering have been the greatest of teachers through these years of living and dying together.
I am a healer. I am a doctor. Yet, God chose me to write about death and not just death, A Good Death. He chose my patient to have her final purpose as breaths became shallow, “It’s ok, I will have a good death.” Her purpose and mine is you.
Together, we will journey through common situations that raise a myriad of questions for patients, loved ones, and caregivers. I will guide you through the process of a proactive plan for navigating the confusing paradigm shifts that occur from health to death. You will learn how to find a good doctor, navigate hospitals, and ICU’s and when that call comes, you will know what to do. You will prepare for your aging and know how to care for the loved ones in your life that are already there. Practical advice with lists of questions to ask are present if you are faced with a serious diagnosis. A Good Death will read as a novel, however, it is meant to be a reference book when, not if, but when life changes due to the frailty of health we all face.
The greatest gift of writing and I believe reading A Good Death is discovering the richness of life in this moment because I may not have another. If I don’t, I know I will have a good death. Death is. Eternity waits.