Dying with Ease
My book, Dying With Ease, recognizes that most people don’t think much about their own mortality, and don’t really want to. But this results, especially in America, with a disconnect between what we think dying should be like and the cacophonous, painful experience of 21st century intensive care, the final place of existence for far too many of us. We fear death for many reasons, including the fact that it is inevitable yet beyond our control, and that its essence and reality are unknowable and foreign. This book provides information about the ways dying occurs in America, and the resources and options available to those facing the end of life, of their own or that of a loved one. I argue that facing mortality and planning for it can improve the chances that our inevitable dying will occur with the dignity and peace that most people say that they want.
I have formulated this book as an in-turning spiral, beginning on the edge with a macroscopic description of how dying happens in America; each subsequent chapter illuminating a point on the inward path, gradually narrowing the focus to the inescapable eventuality of the reader’s own dying. Stations on the journey examine the questions of: How can I plan for the last part of my life? What is hospice care? What about suffering, and what options do I have if it is unbearable? Is my life my own to do with as I choose? What do religion and spiritual philosophy have to say about dying, and how do they impact what happens? The high-resolution personal exploration becomes experiential in the chapter “What Does It Feel Like to Die?” Here I place the reader in the position of being the dying person, from the time of first symptoms until the end of life. This exercise uses the image of inexorable incremental loss of what is most precious as an emotional metaphor for the dying process. The final chapter recapitulates many of the major points, transposing them into practical steps and tasks for one envisioning and planning for the end of their life. An epilogue is a personal reflective essay on the meaning of death
Each chapter includes information, commentary and examples to elucidate the implications of those facts, illustrative quotations from or references to cultural sources — religion, philosophy, history, arts, and popular culture — and narratives from the experiences of my patients, colleagues, friends, and family members. I use this combination of didactic and reflective presentation to induce, in the reader, acquisition of knowledge, understanding of meaning, and experience of emotion as regards mortality, their own and that of those close to them.