More thoughts on dying a good death

Everyone keeps telling me, “You don’t look ill! You look great!” I know they mean it as a compliment, but I DO have a belly full of cancer, and I definitely look better than I feel. In truth, I’ll probably be the best-looking corpse at the funeral home later this year.

I’m definitely on a long slow slide downward, with small upticks along the way during which I look and feel better. I spend long productive hours at home weaving, spinning, and writing, when not sidelined by drug-induced fogginess.

The palliative painkillers have certainly saved me a good deal of physical distress, but they create additional problems (some of them detailed already). As I observed in my earlier blog, dying people are offered handfuls of drugs to ease pain, to reactivate sluggish bowels, to quell anxiety, to fall asleep at night, but we generally are not offered non-drug alternatives that might help us maintain a clearer, cleaner and swifter end-of-life. Conscious death is a movement that has not yet taken hold here, so we have only the drug model to turn to.

Because Indiana is so backward, and because it has permitted medieval religious ethics to taint our laws on assisted dying, there is no death-with-dignity option for me. Because I do not want my death to be prolonged, I instead have drawn up a Do Not Resuscitate order that has been suitably witnessed and registered.  But here’s the question: in effect, don’t my painkillers constitute an artificial prolonging of life, since they keep me alive without allowing me to recognize how gravely ill I am? In ancient millennia, without pain relief, people at my point in the disease would simply curl up in a corner and refuse to eat until they shriveled up and died, but modern pain relief is now keeping me alive, and enabling me to eat small meals, since I can’t feel the majority of the pain in my belly.

Many people would at once say “That’s the benefit of modern medicine! It allows you to maintain your quality of life for weeks, even months, much longer than you would have had in a pre-industrial society.” Well, that quality-of-life issue is the sticking point. I’m still on a very low dose of prescription painkillers, and once my cancer has grown sufficiently to require higher dosages, my current quality of life will vanish as I become too groggy to write, weave, spin, or even take a stroll outside without a buddy to watch over my staggering feet. What then? And with my mind increasingly stupefied by narcotics, how can I expect to practice mindfulness meditation, self-hypnosis, or the daily attempts at maintaining a good attitude that have served me well until now?

Are these drugs really the best we can do for our dying ones? I don’t have a lot of answers, or a lot of wisdom; I’m just stumbling down a darkening passageway, commenting out loud as things slowly occur to me. But it seems to me that piles of drugs are not the best option for someone who wants to die peacefully, with dignity and intention, and without any nonsense.

Image by Chessley Sexton.
Image by Chessley Sexton.
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14 thoughts on “More thoughts on dying a good death”

  1. Recently found out about you. Your blog has been incredible to read. Is it OK to say “I love you” even though I don’t know you? I love you.

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  2. There definitely is no win-win. I have Metastic Breast Cancer and at this time I don’t have to take pain killers. My mind though always goes to the place where you are….is it really for our benefit. Thank Heavens for the good shepherd giving us peace and grace through it all. God Bless

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  3. There is always the option to skip thedrugs. But then you wont die peacefully and with dignity but with a lot of pain and struggle. If you want to die peacefully, you need a heart attack or a bolt of lightning. If you have cancer you don’t always get what you want. You have to learn acceptance and compromise (says the 7 year survivor of incurable metatasized cancer)

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    1. Sometimes I wonder if it’s “too much information,” but based on my page stats, people definitely want to read about this topic. It’s pertinent for all who are aging, for all who have elderly parents, for all who will soon pass this way themselves. I do my best to treat the subject with honor and respect.

      Thanks for commenting, Liz! hugs to you. 🙂

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  4. Your searching, questioning, sharing, standing ground yet accepting, and peaceful attitude oozes onto your countenance. Those are the qualities, the very you, that cause folks to gasp, “you look amazing!”
    Of course, it also helps that you are adorable.
    Your writings are stirring up discussions among friends about what can be done to awaken change for terminal illness end of life passage.
    Thank you, Carrol.

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  5. I agree with you, Carroll. Thank you for continuing to share your profound experiences and insights. You are contributing to a process of societal change with each person you reach. And I am personally so grateful for the guidance you provide, on living in the moment, and acceptance and openness.

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