Beautifully and wisely stated, Leslie, as usual.
During the course of my career thus far, I've seen only two people die who truly were not ready to go......who feared death for reasons known only to them, and sheer terror was in their eyes as they were overtaken by the darkness of the great unknown. I have often wondered why they were so afraid, and what---if anything---they saw as the life left their bodies.
The rest, however, have been not only ready, but willing. They were worn out; their bodies, and in many cases, their minds, had given up the ghost long before their souls followed. Most have enjoyed long and fruitful lives and, like tired but trustful children, known that it was time to leave the party and "go home with the one who'd brought them", as one 94-year-old said to me just before she died of kidney cancer. Some have had families who wanted everything done to keep them alive as long as possible, although to what end differed with each situation.
With one memorable family, it was sheer greed---as long as Grandma was alive, they could live on her money and use her property, all of which was to be given to her church upon her death. She was a wreck of a human being who could not walk, talk or ask for anything; she had a feeding tube and chronic decubiti on her coccyx and heels; she aspirated and got pneumonia at least twice a year; she had brittle diabetes, was blind in one eye, and had gangrene in one leg. For the four years I knew her, she ping-ponged back and forth between the hospital and her nursing home.......no one wanted to let her die on their watch, because we knew the family would sue. But we were not God, and finally she defied everyone and slipped away quietly while in the hospital. She was 98 years old and had spent more than a decade lying mute and helpless in a bed.
But with most, it's as Leslie said........Americans tend to believe that death is a defeat, not a natural process, and that they're failing their loved one if they don't "do everything" for him/her. I myself have asked my oldest daughter to be my healthcare POA, because I know my husband wouldn't be able to let me go, no matter how many times I remind him of the DNR order I have on file. Even at 53, I share with my elder brothers and sisters the satisfaction of having had a good run, and if something were to happen to me even now, it wouldn't be a tragedy. After all, I've been blessed with great love, a beautiful family, good friends, a strong faith, and enough material goods to make life even more enjoyable. I don't want
to "go" yet......but I'm not afraid of what I'll find on the other side when my time does come.
Maybe it won't take a think tank, or a group of physicians and scientists, to change the way death is viewed by our society. Maybe our current economic crisis, combined with the crush of some 76 million Baby Boomers entering our twilight years, will be enough to make people stop and think about the wisdom of pushing costly and painful "lifesaving" interventions on those who don't want them, or when death is inevitable without them. Or just maybe, it will take nurses and patients sitting down together and talking about death, honestly and without the influence of politics and money, to show the world how things should
be done for the greater good of all.