When It’s Time to Die

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops how she wants to die peacefully, in a garden

Not too long ago, at some unnoticed and now unidentifiable moment, I reached the point beyond which it could be remarked that, “She died before her time.” It got me thinking.

When it’s “my time” I want to be carried outside and laid in the sun, in a bed of day lilies and soft grasses. Wrap me in a blanket of hasta leaves. Amid birdsong and the sweet scents of lilac and honeysuckle, I want to be surrounded by friends sipping wine. We will all say our goodbyes, but I will stubbornly cling to life; there will be no dying peacefully in the garden for me.

The first time I met my friend’s father he proudly showed me his garden. He was already old then, and the vegetables and vines were growing greater than he could handle. He gardened and lived ambitiously. And eight years later, when it was his time to die, this old man kept going on and on, six days without food or water, relatives pouring in from all over the country, multiple moves from hospital to hospice-at-home. During the waiting, from 400 miles west, I sat picking spent buds off the plant my friend had left me. Deadheading, she’d called it. Trying to imagine the flowers and grasses endlessly going on, growing without me, I considered this dying, this idea that someday, now sooner rather than later, I will be dead.

I, like the old man, will take my time leaving. I’ll make pretty plans for my death, create a perfect day to die, and then grab every last moment I can to continue living. Even if I’m stuck in a dreary hospital bed tucked away from the beautiful bustling world.

My friend, sitting vigil, took photos of her father, half in this world and half out, photos of his hands holding her hand. When she finally crept back into town, exhausted, we sat over whiskeys, hardly whispering just a few words. She handed me her iPhone to see the multiple pictures of their entwined hands. They both had gardeners’ hands. Sturdy calloused hands that displayed lifetimes of pulling at thorny weeds and tamping down moist soil around fragile seedlings.

Daily now, I remind myself: We are born. We live. We die. And in that middle part, as I go about the living, all the brutal and beautiful living, I want to consciously consume every second.

How do you want to die? What is dearest to you in your life?

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4 thoughts on “When It’s Time to Die

  1. Elaine Mansfield

    Whew! I hope and pray I do not take my time leaving. Vic’s two years of illness seems brief compared to my mother’s 10+ years with Alzheimer’s and my mother-in-law’s ability to pull back from the edge after every crisis. At 102, she still seems to have more lives to go–and she never liked cats. Recently Virginia said to me, “We’re born and then we die.” She left out the living part. Like everyone else, I’d like to die quickly and not have years of physical or mental infirmity. Since reading a book about gypsy death rituals about 40 years ago, I’ve wanted to die under the open sky–but not if it’s February.

    1. Robin Botie Post author

      I find that so incredible, what Virginia said, and here she is having the longest period of living of anyone I know. I agree with you about not taking up too much time leaving. When it’s time to be gone I, too, want to be quick and efficient about it. Must look into those gypsy death rituals. Dying under an open sky has always been one of my preferences. And I think that designing a good death might make it less scary to go.

  2. Lynne Taetzsch

    Robin, thanks for reminding us to savor this life, as it passes so quickly. I think I’m already half into the dying part–as I see my body and mind failing incrementally. It feels “too late to change now,” and I’m looking forward to the rest. Also thanks for acknowledging that living is “brutal” as well as beautiful.

    1. Robin Botie Post author

      Yeah, Lynne. It is SO Depressing watching our bodies deteriorate with age, BUT we are still here and we’re Not Done with this life yet. So we do the best we can with our tired limbs, and have to be grateful we got this far. And yikes, there’s still a bunch of beautiful in store for us, although it’s going to take more determination and good humor to access it these days. So let’s charge on. Cheers!


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