I don't know where we get the balls to think we're so friggin' special that we could or SHOULD live forever.
We all have to die sometime.
I think the trick is to try to do as much good as we can while we are here... to improve the world in some way...
I'm a big believer in QUALITY as opposed to quantity.
I have seen many patients die, many of them going through the various stages as identified by Elisabeth Kubler Ross.
I think we should be free to decide when we've had enough...
(Kevorkian is my hero)
and to live (and hopefully to die) comfortably and as pain - free as possible.
When my mother - who had bilateral mastectomies for breast cancer (6 or 7 years apart) developed metastasis to the lung and spine (all the way from the cervical region down to the pelvis) the first thing she did was go out and buy a video camera.
She was determined to make the most of the time she had left and to leave her loved ones with as many happy memories as she could.
Having worked for an oncologist and being a very bright, informed, and realistic woman, she knew exactly what to anticipate (as far as the progression of the disease).
I moved in with her to help her care for her menagerie (she had a houseful of animals she had rescued from the streets), and so that I could spend as much time as possible with her (as her only child and as mother of her only grandchild my relationship with her was quite intense).
Also - as a nurse - I could care for her at home and try to avoid her having to be hospitalized (as much as possible).
We had a wonderful year and a half. Naturally, her body gradually deteriorated...
One night she developed respiratory distress and I had to rush her to the hospital. We had discussed everything in advance and I knew she did NOT want to be resuscitated Nor did she want to be intubated.
Her doctor - who was also her former boss and a close family friend - met us in the hospital and persuaded me to allow them to intubate her just to make her more comfortable. She really thought that my mother - who was septic- would recover and have a little more quality time.
I explained it all to my mom and she agreed.
Angie - her doctor - also pleaded with me NOT to sign a DNR ("do not resuscitate") order so that my mom would be accepted into the medical intensive care unit and receive the most attention.
I agreed, thinking that I could always sign it later if death looked imminent.
I stayed with her in the ICU... and spoke with her about many things. She couldn't speak because she was on a respirator, but she was very responsive and motioned with her eyes and mouth... (and even laughed when I reminisced about some of the schmucks I had dated)...
My cousin Sheldon - who is a physician - drove several hours to come and see her in the ICU ... we all knew this was "it" and we wanted to give her a warm "send off" and as health care professionals we could put our heads together and take measures to minimize her physical suffering.
As each organ shut down, she became less and less responsive. I assured her that I would take care of all of her animals.
I praised her for having given me such a solid, rich, and cultured foundation (despite the fact that we were always poor) and I thanked her for giving me the materials and values I needed to raise my son to be a strong, confident, and compassionate human being.
Though I had wanted to be with her at the moment of death, as it turned out I had to drive home to prepare my son for school and walk my dogs.
The hospital was about 20 - 30 minutes away.
When I arrived home I realized I had forgotten to sign a DNR before I left the hospital.
I called the ICU and tried to give them a telephone order for it, but they would not accept it. So I rushed back to the hospital, hoping to prevent my mom from being tortured by CPR - which would be pointless anyway.
By the time I arrived it was too late. My mom had died - and they had tried to resuscitate her not once but TWICE... I was horrified and felt terribly guilty for forgetting to sign the DNR. I could have saved her that additional and unnecessary suffering at the end.
I didn't punish myself for long, though, choosing instead to focus on all the positive aspects of the last phase of her life.
Actually, I was relieved that she died when she did. She had really suffered the last few months of her life... and had she debilitated any further I would have helped her end it.
It IS possible to live a full life and die with grace and dignity.
Death does not have to be frightening.
I see it as a natural progression to life.
It's funny, but through the years while working as a nurse, I found that my patients liked to die with me...
they seemed to feel comfortable with me.
They knew I cared about them and that I felt comfortable with death myself.
I think our arrogance as a species interferes with our ability to accept the fact that our time is limited.
Once we start looking beyond ourselves and our little worlds and start seeing the bigger picture, our own mortality becomes less of an issue.
While we're on the subject of death, one of the funniest songs I've heard is "Still Gonna Die" by Shel Silverstein (on the "Bob Gibson Sings Shel Silverstein" cd)!!! I used to bring it in to the hospital and play it for the doctors, nurses, and (some of the) patients.