“What is your ideal death?”
That is one of the questions in a book I am reading for my social work class on dying. It’s not a matter to which I have dedicated much thought. I can hardly plan a month in advance, let alone the end of my life. But the truth is that there is no guarantee that my life would extend past next month.
The author of the book describes some of the responses she has received to this question. Some say they want to die with friends and family by their side. Others want to be alone. Some want to be in their bedrooms or living rooms. Others want to be out in nature. Very few want their last days to be in a hospital or nursing home, although many of us will end up there.
What do you want to be the last image you see before you die? The face of a loved one? A familiar book? A beautiful forest? Certainly most would rather it not be the flickering of a hospital fluorescent light or a tangled mass of plastic tubing, half-filled with drained abdominal fluid.
My ideal death would be quiet. I would like to be near the window, with the sunlight shining. I would like to have my family there, maybe a few friends, but not a big crowd. I would want to be at home, not at a hospital or nursing home. Mostly, I would want to be lucid. Physical pain is OK, to a point, but I would hate to be unable to communicate or interact with the outside world.
When I tell folks that I am taking a class on death, some of them become uncomfortable and say it must be depressing. There is certainly a somberness to death, and even a horror. Dying is never pretty. But it is a certainty. I want to approach it ready, in control of what I can control, able to make my own choices. Death may be an uninvited and even unwelcome guest, but let me at least be ready to meet him.