Death isn't failure, so know your choices then live fully

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Although Sally Kalson's well-written column "We Spend Too Much in Dying" (April 7) focused on the cost of dying in America today, it was more about many other issues in the dying process.

In Dr. Sherwin B. Nuland's national best-selling book "How We Die: Reflections on Life's Final Chapter," he traces in history what was once thought to be the correct way to die, which was concealing and sanitizing it in intensive care units and emergency rooms. He wrote, "The good death has increasingly become a myth." Dr. Nuland, a surgeon, states that "Death belongs to the dying and to those who love him," and he is very critical throughout his book about prolonging the life of a dying person by physicians medicalizing the grief process.

I believe it is important to realize that death is not a failure. One out of one dies. But so many of us live each day as if we are going to live forever. The concept of death can set us free to live fully in our time. The poet Ranier Maria Rilke wrote, "Oh Lord, give each of us his own death." So all of us need to know our choices even before death draws near so we can have "our own death." Unfortunately, many family members are unwilling to let go of their dying loved one even if they have expressed their readiness to die. And too many physicians still medicalize the dying process with well-meaning exercises in futility.

My husband and I both have living wills, which our primary care physicians and our children have copies of, which will give both of us a "humane departure" with our family, not alone in an intensive care unit with strangers. When the time comes, we will be assisted in our dying with hospice and palliative care to help us die with the dignity with which we lived. We hope to go to our graves as William Cullen Bryant expresses in his poem "Thanatopsis" "like one who wraps the drapery of his couch about him, and lies down to pleasant dreams."

LILLIAN L. MEYERS
Bethel Park


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