Tag Archives: a good death

Preoccupied with Death and Dying

Robin Botie of ithaca, New York, photoshops a scene depicting her vision of a good death.The biggest ant I ever saw was flat on its back on my kitchen counter. It was waving its little limbs frantically when I went to bed that night too tired to deal with it. In the morning the intrepid ant was still there. When I put on my glasses, I could see it was still pawing at the air, but with somewhat less vigor.

And while I stood over it, wielding my mini-vac—my preferred method of bug removal—I considered how I might instead move the ant to a grassy spot outside. This would not be easy. Small creatures with many more legs than I have always kinda creeped me out. Bug phobia. It goes back over half a century. I’d once made a 24-inch-long paper mache ant for a grade school science project, partly to face my terror.

More recently, partly to face another fear, my terror of death and dying, I attended a workshop where we wrote about how we wanted to die. For a good death, I wrote, I would be lying in lush grass, under the open sky, near a forest with ferns. With friends nearby, I would listen to the sweet sounds of my favorite bugle calls, Tattoo and Taps.
“You’re pretty preoccupied with death these days,” a friend accused. Yes, I agreed. Because, maybe if I made a project of it, I could lose my terror.

But back to that morning, with the ant. It was writhing in slow motion, making me queasy about facing breakfast—and suddenly it stopped moving.

I stared at the lifeless insect. All I wanted was to suck the critter up into the depths of the dust-buster, to get rid of it. But I couldn’t do that after spending months preparing to sit vigil and help the dying. Hoping there was still time for the bug’s last moments, I used a teaspoon to sweep it into an empty yogurt container. And holding it at arm’s length, I ran outside and gently shook the poor creature out onto the grass.

The ant slid out, landing on its feet. It took off creeping. For a moment I watched it climb shakily from blade to blade of dewy grass. I watched as butterflies and dragonflies flew by. Until it hit me—I’d saved a life. Because of my preoccupation with death. Maybe then I felt just the tiniest bit better about bugs and death in general.

 

What creeps you out? What does a good death mean for you?

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Death Midwife

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops a death midwife's portrait veiled by the last snow of the season.We look at things differently when we know it’s the last time. On an early morning last week, my driveway was exquisitely patterned with bright patches of snow. The last snow of the season, I thought as I photographed it and then photo-shopped it to veil a portrait of the death midwife who patiently waits for and watches the last moments of life.

“What does a death midwife do?” I asked Iona (a name I chose for her after we spoke).
“…hold a conscious awareness of the naturalness of death. Sit vigil at the deathbed—holding space and bearing witness. Provide accompaniment, non-medical support, and education for the dying and their loved ones in the final months, weeks and days of life,” she answered. “Holding space,” she said, several times. I had to look that term up. It means to make oneself entirely, wholeheartedly present to someone, offering unconditional, non-judgmental support.

Iona told me the story of the first person she sat with. It was a woman with end-stage Alzheimer’s who talked constantly but incoherently. For six weeks Iona visited her and listened without understanding a word, until one day, at the very end, in a moment of clarity the woman said, clear as a bell, “Those of us with wings can fly away now.”

“What did you lose and what did you find?” I asked her, because I always pose this question.
“When I do this work, all judgment falls away. It is such a relief to stand in a space that is completely neutral…there’s nothing to do, you’re just asked to be. It lets me be a kinder, gentler version of myself. I found my true calling.”

“What have you learned from sitting with the dying?” I asked finally.
“That one is living until one is dead. There is always a possibility of growth and transformation up ‘til the last moment,” she said, and “You die the way you lived.” Which gave me a lot to think about.

 

If you die the way you live, what changes might you want to make while there is still time? What would your own dying look like, how would you want to die?

 

 

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