We had a cat when I was a kid, and it got old, as we all do. And then one day, she died.

As all of us in my family were talking after finding her, we realized that the day before she died, she had taken care to spend a little one-on-one time with each member of the family, just purring and being affectionate. And once that was done, she went off on her own to find a place to die.

I have always thought that cat had a better handle on how to approach death than most humans do.

PBS made a great documentary a few years back (based on an equally good book), about how Americans related to death during the Civil War, the country's first real mass death event. pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperienc

And something that stuck with me from it was the Victorian idea of what they called "the good death," as in how to comport oneself when death hoves into view. And how hard mortally wounded soldiers on the battlefield, far from home and family, worked to give themselves some semblance of it.

And while I'm not a fan of Victorian morality in general (to put it mildly), I couldn't help but be struck by how distant our modern experience of death is from the Victorian "good death."

The Victorian "good death" happened at home, surrounded by family. It allowed the dying person a little time to say final words; to leave this world, if not at a time of their choosing, at least on a tone of their choosing. It made death a part of family life.

Death today, on the other hand, is exhaustively mediated. We mostly die today not surrounded by family, but surrounded by strangers in scrubs and beeping medical devices. It's clinical in every sense of the word.

All that machinery is there to stave death off, of course. But even when that effort has conclusively failed, it keeps going anyway. It runs on its own momentum. The point of the procedure is the procedure; the patient is almost an afterthought.

I have had to accompany someone to death in that environment, and it is enervating. At every step, there are technicians hovering between you and your loved one. You're in an environment that is deliberately anonymous, aggressively impersonal. Everything's bathed in the hard flatness of fluorescent lights.

And then the person is gone, and there are forms to fill out.

If there is such a thing as a good death, this is not it.

What's my point? I'm not sure I have one.

But if you love someone, today would be a fine time to tell them that.

@jalefkowit I'd be happy to see something like this in the US but, given the direction of political winds, there doesn't seem to be a snowball's chance.


@baslow Yes, I would very much like to see something like that here too.


We've started one of our first steps of adjusting, which was to get my parents telling stories to pass on, and recording it.

It was fun listening to my Dad telling his old "glory days" stories about his time in the Navy and so on. I remember those from when I was a kid, of course. But we plan to cut into a little minidocumentary to pass onto our kids, just for continuity.

And of course, my parents have already made funerary arrangements. I suppose I need to get a copy of them.

@jalefkowit @TerryHancock My brother-in-law started a project to create a book about his parents’ lives.

He not only interviewed the parents, but lots of relatives and friends as well. So now we have a printed recollection of much of their lives! (They’re both still with us.)

I’ll admit that at first, I found this silly and overdone. Seeing the result, I have to say that it’s simply wonderful.


I expect, like most family photos we take, we won't really appreciate its value until later. But I think it's good to put some conscious effort into family continuity.

I know that for me, the tragedy of dying will mostly lie in the things I'll leave unfinished.


@TerryHancock @jalefkowit I actually hope there will be *lots* of things I leave unfinished when I die.

I hope that my death will find me amongst the living, with an iron in the fire, a pan on the stove, and a drink on the table. Things I’ve started that I could never finish.

With my children holding my hands, and my grandchildren playing nearby. With friends and neighbors coming to celebrate my life, and guide me as I’m leaving.

@TerryHancock @jalefkowit Some time ago the Guardian had a few articles on death and wakes in Ireland. Like this one:


That’s how I’d like to go: with friends and neighbors all round, keeping life alive as death takes me.

@jalefkowit There’s telling others that you love them. And then there’s living the best life you can.

I keep hearing stories of colleagues whom you’d call conventionally successful. They work hard, and they get promoted.

And when they retire, some illness kills them after a couple of years. Or they die unexpectedly in their fifties.

Life is such a precious gift. And it can only ever be lived now, right now.


Of course, this is why we have hospice care for patients who we know aren't going to recover. But it isn't always feasible.

Most of my close relatives who died were either in hospice for a time or died very suddenly. I guess I've been lucky that way.

In the hospital environment, as when people are on a vent with Covid, the point is still that chance that they will recover, even after it becomes unlikely.

Still have my parents, but I can relate to the article.

@TerryHancock I have had to make the decision to take a loved one off life support. There's no room for hospice in that scenario; nobody knows when they go into the hospital that they aren't going to come out.

The thing nobody tells you about taking someone off life support is how long it takes for them to expire. You think from the "pulling the plug" metaphor that it's near instant, but it wasn't, at least in my case. It probably took half an hour, but it felt like many hours.


Yeah, that's very rough. It's always a possibility, and a lot of the deaths from Covid have been like that.

My own thought about it is that death itself is never going to be pleasant and yet it's inevitable. I hope for that moment not to be the one my loved ones dwell on when it happens to me, however badly or well it goes.

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