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July 27, 2004

What is a Good Death? A Tribute to Susan and to Warriors Everywhere by Alexis L. Versalle

I wanted you to have a peaceful death, Susan. So did a lot of other people, which is why an oncology nurse first asked me to look in on you in ICU. You had just been transferred down from the third floor and your nurse was so concerned about you. She was under the impression that you and your family had refused a DNR order and wanted everything done to prolong your life.

There is definitely something to be said for that kind of peaceful, accepting, graceful death, so it was very hard for me to watch you dying. I hated to see you struggle. I hated to see you melting into a prayer for rest and peace one moment, crying with all your heart for God to cure you the next. Eyes open, completely aware, desperately fighting tooth and nail for every breath at the end. Dying without, it seemed, any peace, any acceptance, for you or your family. You broke my heart.

I had to be reminded by a very wise colleague that there was something deeply important to take away from this. I've struggled with it, and would like to honor you by telling you what I've learned.

Most simply, I've learned that your dying was about you, not about some notion of how people "should" die. I'm not saying that there isn't a rchness about dying with acceptance and with, if you will, open arms. But I see that it's not the only richness to be found in dying, or the only grace. You did not want to die, and why should you? You had a passionate desire for life. You wanted to beat the disease and you fought like a warrior. Your physical strength was draining away, but your will was never outmatched. You died exactly the way you needed to, being exactly the person you always had been.
That attitude is very hard for us who care for dying people, and certainly for me. I wanted everyone to recognize that, as I saw it, there's a time to stop fighting. A time to accept with grace our coming death, so that we all, patients, family, and staff, can use the time left to share our stories, support one another, and love the dying person through to whatever we believe comes after.

It wasn't important if the people around you were comfortable with your dying--we didn't have to be. Forgive me for failing to see the terrible beauty of your struggle, the power of life that blazed forth from you. You wrested every last moment from your life and left me in awe as well as sorrow. I honor you. What a will! What a passion for living! What strength! What a victory! If anyone beat a disease, Susan, it was you.

The above article, What is a Good Death? A Tribute to Susan and to Warriors Everywhere by Alexis L. Versalle was first published by the Journal of Pastoral Care and Counseling (JPCC) , Spring-Summer 2004, Vol. 58, Nos. 1-2, p. 117. Published by the Journal of Pastoral Care Publications, Kutztown, PA.

Posted by Perry Miller, Editor at July 27, 2004 9:38 AM

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