This weekend we bought the Globe and Mail because of an article headlined “The Good Death.” It chronicled a Canadian woman who spent the past year preparing for her death, which came this month. Hoping for insights that would spur me into some inspired final gesture, I read her story. And was disappointed.
Here was her “good death”: she wrote her will, went on a final family holiday and maintained an upbeat attitude. Isn’t that exactly what most palliative patients do? Dying 101. I am criticizing the newspaper, not the woman. The Globe’s headline promised depths it never plumbed.
Ever since my diagnosis, I’ve been putting legal and financial affairs in order, writing letters for Will to read some day, and scouring the house for flaws to fix. As for leaving behind a heroic final legacy project, I’ve got nothing. Some nights I don’t have the energy to watch the shows I’ve PVRed.
I’m reminded of a conversation I had a year ago, while recuperating from lung surgery. My roommate was a 60ish gent with many health issues. His wife was a younger, somewhat impatient woman who reminded him “this was not what I signed up for.”
One day she peeked around the curtain and introduced herself. She was civil, but blunt and brassy, like the monthly sales leader at a realty office. She asked why I was in hospital. And then: “So Mike, do you have a bucket list? Something you really want to do?”
In fact, I do have a bucket list—dubbed the Fucket List—that describes small projects, big trips and classic books I want to savour before I go. The most important item on the list is to do more things with Will, since we’re likely to be short-changed some father-son time. And I told her that.
“Honestly, I just want to spend every moment I can with my son.”
She looked at me as if I said I didn’t eat food.
With her chin in her hand, she said “Hmmph.”
I guess I should have said “I’d like to swim with dolphins while skydiving and learning a second language.”
I think she would have understood that answer, but it’s a lie. I would much rather teach my son how to skip a flat rock on a lake.
While the Globe oversold its story, the woman in the article had it right.
A good death is much like a good life. It doesn’t have to be a huge production.