A Painful Question

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Is there a good way to die? To die with dignity was a good way, at least they said that in the old war movies I watched with my father.  To die at peace has been batted around for years as comforted to the survivors. To die without pain is another one doctors use as a solace to a family. To die at home is on many people’s wishlist. And to die surrounded by loved ones brings a certain joy.

I’ve been thinking about this lately, along with all sorts of other thoughts regarding death, but this one has churned in my brain for the past two days. I’ve been trying to put together, piece by broken piece, on what happened that afternoon Peter died. I am trying to fit together what I’ve read, what I’ve heard and what I know for certain. The certainty is vague, other than he died, and I don’t have any “official” reports yet to tell me exacts. So, I am stuck playing some kind of fictional sleuth figuring out a robbery in a macabre mystery book I want to put down or finish, and I can’t. Unexpected deaths like Peter’s, take a little bit longer to get information on and perhaps to grieve.

My father was sick all of my life. He was in and out of hospitals with strokes, heart attacks, zapping his heart to beat again, blockages, and more strokes. Eventually, his heart pumped slowly and shut down the rest of his organs. It was not a good way to live a life – in pain, uncertainty and in the hospital rooms. He made the best out of what was handed him, something I admired greatly in him.

When my father died, three weeks before my daughter was born,  I was overwhelmingly relieved.  Finally, his pain, his suffering, the precariousness of his life was over. And, after saying good-bye to him about seven times in the last five years of his life, maybe twelve overall, I knew I said all I had to say to him. He told me things during these good-byes that eased my mind and my heart, and I told him the same. There were no words left unsaid between us. When he died, it was a see ya more than a good-bye.  Good-byes already happened…a few times.

With Peter’s death, it was different. It was instant. It was startling. It was a life snuffed out in minutes. There was no preparation for me, no good-byes. I was left with things unsaid and questions never fully answered. Unfilled dreams for us, for him, for me, died with him.  Confusion about our finances clouded my brain. Decisions we made as a team were now, suddenly, all so suddenly, became a solo act. There were still so many things I wanted and needed to say to Peter, my husband, my best friend, my lover and my co-parent. A final good-bye was not going to be, by either of us, thus leaving me with all too many words left unsaid.

I think about the night Peter died. I think about the words of the doctor, “your husband died instantly and in no pain”.  It meant nothing to me then. Sure, I repeated the words for family and friends, but I never really heard them. I never really felt them. All I heard and felt that night and the days and night that followed was Peter’s dead. The rest was static to my ears. It didn’t matter about Peter’s pain level or his abrupt exit from this world.  What mattered was everything was taken from me because he was taken from me. Half of me died with him, and I began to mourn us both.

I don’t know the answer to what is a good way to die? I don’t know if seeing someone in pain, yet being able to say good-bye is better for the survivor than the person dying.  On the other hand, is a sudden unexpected death without a good-bye better for the person who died than the survivor?  What’s better, the pain and preparation for the dead, or the peace and chaos for those left living?

I  suppose dying in pain and preparation is not a humane answer for the person dying, yet may be better for the survivor in some way.  I mean, there is a relief that comes from a good-bye.  And I suppose the unexpectedness of a person’s life ending is much better for the person who died, yet worse for the survivor.  A closure may be painfully dragged out longer. The way someone dies and what remains is a question of the who gets the pain, the victim or the survivor? What is fairer? What is better?  Is this all a transference of pain?

In my best of days, where selfishness is not in my forefront, I want to take the pain from Peter and know his way was the good way to die, probably the best. On my worse, most selfish days, I want to take it back because I think but I don’t want the pain.  On most of my days, I sit and ponder what is the best way to die and for whom?  In the end,  I suppose it doesn’t matter. Both ways cause pain.