Dying & Death Talk

Looking at dying and death for what it is: a part of life.

‘It’s not your fault.’ The extraordinary pain of an ordinary miscarriage.

The Washington| By Maggie O'Farrell | Originally Published 03.07.2018 | Posted 03.11.2018

This is another topic that I need to address more:  miscarriage. April 22 will mark 20 years since the worst day of my life.  I always prepared myself with the fact that I eventually have to funeralize my parents, but to lose a baby (yes, that’s what that 8 week old ‘contents of conception’ (clinical term) was to me, “a baby”) was more than I could handle at the time. Miscarriage is VERY common, but MY GOD!, it was devastating to me.


“It was nothing you did,” the nurse says. “It’s not your fault.”

I am silent. I had not thought it might be. I look again at the image of the baby on the screen. There it is. Sitting up in its dark cave, as if waiting for something, as if on its best behavior.

If I sit straight, it seems to be saying, no one will notice.

I know how it should be, how it should look. This is my second pregnancy. I know the heartbeat should be there, flashing and flashing like a siren. So when the radiologist says that he’s sorry, the baby is dead, I already know. But I carry on staring at the monitor because there is some frail, furled part of me that is hoping there has been a mistake, that the heartbeat might suddenly appear, that the scanning machine might roll further and there it will be. I can’t look away, even when the radiologist starts talking again. I want to burn the image of that tiny, ghost-pale form into my retina. I want to remember it, to honor its existence, however short.

About 1 in 5 pregnancies ends in miscarriage; up to 75 percent of these occur in the first trimester. The risk of pregnancy loss, then, in the first 12 weeks is about 15 percent. About 1 in 100 women experiences recur­rent miscarriages.

We all, I think, know these statistics, or at least have a vague sense of them. We know miscarriage is out there, at our backs, pursuing us, like Andrew Marvell’s wingèd chariot. Continue reading “‘It’s not your fault.’ The extraordinary pain of an ordinary miscarriage.”

Fasting to Death

Courtesy of National | Published 03.10.2018

Sallenkhana is a ritual in which a devout Jain fasts with the intention of preparing for death.


My Girlfriend Is Dying Of Terminal Cancer, But Here’s Why I Still Feel Lucky

Courtesy of | By Roy Cross | Originally Published 02.14.2018 | Posted 03.09.2018

I’m a lucky guy.

Those are often my closing words after I’ve shared the terrible news with someone that my girlfriend, Susan, has an aggressive, incurable cancer. Most people are taken aback by that comment, and I’m sure many walk away from the conversation thanking their lucky stars they are not me. But with Susan, dying has brought all sorts of unexpected gifts.

Susan and I have been together for six years. Both single parents, we were teaching at post-secondary institutes and pursuing creative careers when we met online. It’s been a wonderful, loving adventure — with some tough moments thrown in. But of all the challenges in my life, I think Susan’s diagnosis of a terminal uterine leiomyosarcoma has offered me the greatest opportunities to know love, to grow and evolve as a person and to be happy.

When Susan was getting sick but was not yet diagnosed, I did my best to remain positive and optimistic, despite my anxiety and depression. However, Susan’s approach to her diagnosis was remarkable from the very first moment, and this experience has shown me the limitless power of love. I sensed right away, almost a year ago, that I was in for an awakening.

My father died of cancer when I was 11. I felt angry and abandoned. I became bitter for a long, long time. I am so grateful that I do not feel abandoned by Susan’s impending death. I had deep sadness, and the grieving was almost immediate, but I never really had any of the expected anger or denial or wishful thinking. By skipping all of that, Susan and I were able to mindfully, with gentle love, begin the journey to the end of our relationship.

Continue reading “My Girlfriend Is Dying Of Terminal Cancer, But Here’s Why I Still Feel Lucky”

A Future Without Him, Aided by Duct Tape

Courtesy of Modern Love | By  | Illustration by Brian Rea | Originally Published 02.23.2018 | 03.08.2018

We heard the strangest sounds coming from the front porch, a squawking and an unworldly scream. The children fled into the kitchen, scared and yelling, which is what I wanted to do, too. But I had to handle whatever this was.

I looked out to see our family cat, Echo, with a cardinal in her mouth that was flapping and screeching, struggling to get out. My first thought was to call my husband, followed by a realization: I couldn’t. A month earlier, he had died. I still woke up every morning feeling stunned by this new reality.

Don had learned he was sick in September and had died in June. As a college professor, I couldn’t help but notice the timeline: death in one academic year. He was not supposed to die from this cancer. Two days before, I was still being told, “It’s a bump in the road. We got this.”

And I passed on my own affirmations to the children: “We’ll be in the Poconos by August. We’re still going fishing this year.”

Call it denial or magical thinking; I thought it was true.

The children were too young to visit him at the end in intensive care, so they never saw the tube down his throat or knew he was in a medicated coma or that his albumin range was below starvation level, evidence of his rapidly compromised state. I wasn’t told the last bit, either, until it was too late.

All I wanted now was to save this bird. I ran into the kitchen and got a broom and ran back outside, ignoring my children’s questions about what it was and how I was going to handle it. Continue reading “A Future Without Him, Aided by Duct Tape”

When There’s Nothing More Your Doctor Can Do

Courtesy of TONIC.VICE.COM | By Frank Huyler | Photo by Miquel Llonch/Stocksy | Originally Published 11.23.2016 | Posted 03.07.2018

Every shift in the ER can offer a chilling reminder of your own mortality. One doctor takes us inside a patient’s final minutes.

From the neck up, Robert Gregory looked like an ordinary man, mild, scholarly, with thin wire glasses and bright eyes behind them.

From the neck down he was hardly a man at all.  His body was enormous, so full of fluid that he could barely move.  We had to lift him from the paramedic’s gurney to the bed as he gasped into the oxygen mask.

His shirt was off.  His skin was gray and damp.  His hands and feet were blue.  He felt cold to the touch, like a bag of flour in the refrigerator.

“I can’t breathe, I’m so nauseated, help me.”  The words came one by one, between breaths, like beads on a string. “Help me,” he said, again, and then he began to cry.  He cried like he gasped, without restraint.

I asked him if he wanted to be on a ventilator.  I asked him what he’d like us to do if his heart stopped.  I had to get straight to it.

“I’m DNR,” he said. “Just let me go.  I’m so nauseated.  I’m so afraid.  Please help me.”

“What would you like me to do?”

“Something for nausea. Something for pain. Oh my God.”

So he absolved me: I would only have to watch.  He was sobbing like a child, but he had the courage to give up nonetheless.

He was terrifying. Continue reading “When There’s Nothing More Your Doctor Can Do”

What are the spiritual needs at the end of life?


By Kenneth J. Doka, M.Div., Ph.D.

Do individuals become more religious as they die? This question has often been debated among academics who study death. Such debate avoids the central issue that the dying process raises profound spiritual concerns of meaning and connection for individuals. Whether those who are dying reconnect, review, or renew prior religious beliefs — or are even open to new religious experiences — they are likely to engage in some form of spiritual searching.

That search may be deeply religious or not, but it is always spiritual, and it can occur whether the person was traditionally religious or followed another belief system, whether the person was a humanist, atheist, or agnostic. Despite this reality, spiritual needs of the dying are often overlooked or ignored by family caregivers, clinicians and even clergy, who may be uncomfortable with spiritual searching by the dying and with conversations that may…

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Greg Wise: love, cancer and the sister I adored

Courtesy of | Photos by JUDE EDGINTON and GETTY Images | Originally published 02.10.2018 | Published 03.06.2018

When film executive Clare Wise was diagnosed with breast cancer, she started a blog. Her brother, the actor Greg Wise, took it over when she became too weak to write and he moved in to look after her. The result is a remarkable account of illness, loss and the power of sibling love.

September 6, 2015
Like Jack Nicholson in The Shining, the cancer is back. Can you believe it?

I really thought I had passed cancer with flying colours … Well, almost. Apart from the toxic poisoning and losing a quarter of my breast, I really thought I had done it well and stylishly. As if I knew …

It was a Tuesday, at 10.30am. I saw my surgeon, Jo. I was alone. Absolutely sure that a recent CT scan wouldn’t have shown anything. I should have twigged that something was up because there were at least three other specialists and nurses in the room. “There’s no easy way to tell you this, Clare. You have incurable bone cancer and the reason you can’t move your right arm is that the humerus is fractured.”

Bugger. Bugger. Bugger. Rather stupidly (remember from the first diagnosis I am a cancer moron): “Can I still go on holiday on Thursday? On a boat?”

“Not a good idea, because the tumours (yes, many of them) cause your bones to fracture and a boat isn’t very stable, is it?” Ah, no.

So once again I had to call Greg and tell him to drop everything because I had cancer.

September 20, 2015
Back in July, I was in so much pain the consultants thought I had fractured my spine. Then they worried I had injured the spinal cord, so once again I went for another emergency MRI. Luckily, there was neither a fracture nor a spinal-cord compression, but a few of the tumours in the spine and pelvis were causing problems on other nerves. It was decided that I should have another big dose of radiation at the bottom of my spine. But of course it was a weekend, and that would have to wait for the following week. Until then, I was forced into bed rest and large doses of painkillers.

Once again, our little section of the ward became party central, thanks to lovely staff, Em [Greg’s wife, Emma Thompson], and my fellow patients. The staff were all very respectful of Em until the moment I was discharged, and then they all wanted selfies.

Continue reading “Greg Wise: love, cancer and the sister I adored”

When Do Kids Understand Death?

Courtesy of National | A blog by Virginia Hughes | Originally Published 07.26.2013 | Posted 03.05.2018

Wednesday morning I went to the funeral of my husband’s grandfather, who had lived 93 years. As a couple of dozen family members circled around his grave site, I couldn’t help but think of how bizarre and disorienting death is. Just a few days earlier, there was, there existed, a physically robust, smiling, warm, breathing man. And now his big body was somehow fixed in a wooden box, descending into a dirt hole just a few feet from his tearful widow, children, grandchildren, and great-grandchild.

My niece Emily, who’s almost 3, was on her mom’s hip, snacking on Cheerios and watching the burial intently. “What are we doing?” she said. “Saying good-bye to Opa,” her mom whispered. “Bye-bye, Opa!” Emily said cheerily. Her mom burst into tears. “What’s wrong, Mommy?”

It was one of the morning’s many bittersweet moments, a reminder that even amidst death, life goes on. I kept thinking about it throughout the day, as I saw Emily laughing and climbing and running around an apartment full of grievers. When does a child learn the concept of death? And how do scientists even figure that out?

Turns out that psychologists have been investigating children’s ideas of death since the 1930s. When judged through a modern lens, some of these early studies seem a bit wacky. In the first, published in 1934, doctors interviewed boys living in Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital in New York. As part of the interview, they recorded the boys’ responses after a doll fell to the ground with a loud noise.

One of the most famous early studies was done by Hungarian psychologist Maria Nagy. She interviewed nearly 400 children living in Budapest just after World War II, a time when death was everywhere. She simply asked them to answer, either in words or pictures, “What is death?” Continue reading “When Do Kids Understand Death?”

Last Things First for Patients With Bucket Lists

Courtesy of The New York | By 

If a new study is correct, more than 91 percent of us have a bucket list — things we wish to do before we die. This revelation is interesting on several levels, including a question of what that minority of nearly 9 percent is thinking. Surely those people are aware that the chance of their kicking the bucket is 100 percent. Are we to believe that nothing in their basket of wishes is unrealized?

The research, published last week in The Journal of Palliative Medicine, was based on a survey of 3,056 people across the United States. Perhaps not surprisingly, those who put stock in religion and spirituality were more likely to compile such a list than those of little faith. The aspiration they listed most commonly is also unsurprising: a desire to travel. Make what you will of the finding that much farther down the scale was a desire to spend quality time with friends and family.

There is more to bucket lists than mere wishes. There’s a practical side. The study said that doctors might be better able to figure out the best courses of action for seriously ill patients. One of the researchers, Dr. Vyjeyanthi Periyakoil of Stanford University, cited the example of a patient who had inoperable cancer of the gallbladder yet would benefit from radiation treatments and chemotherapy. But he also wanted to fulfill a dream of taking his family to Maui. Go to Hawaii while you still can, Dr. Periyakoil told him.

It worked out well, she said. This man went to Maui and came back glowing. Had he first had radiation and chemo, his fantasy would have remained just that, a fantasy. Makes sense. Continue reading “Last Things First for Patients With Bucket Lists”

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