What Does It Feel Like to Die?
September 30, 2019 9:02 PM   Subscribe

Depictions of death on TV and in the movies are unrealistic; the characters are awake and carry on meaningful conversations, then suddenly close their eyes and die. That’s not how it works. In the days when deaths occurred at home, most people had seen a relative die. And today we have a lot of knowledge about what happens in the body as it begins shutting down. It’s a gradual process.

Harriet Hall, MD, reviews What Does It Feel Like To Die?: Inspiring New Insights Into The Experience Of Dying by Jennie Dear.
posted by Johnny Wallflower (50 comments total) 63 users marked this as a favorite
 
If the movies and TV seem insufficiently unrealistic, you should try opera!
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 9:18 PM on September 30, 2019 [22 favorites]


"I have heard that you can tell a gentleman by the way he dies — but I should like to groan. Robert would have groaned if he had wished. Of course, Robert was queer — but then — he was my own brother — he would have shrieked if he had felt like it. Elizabeth, will you — please — leave the room. I am sorry —but I must groan. Never speak of it — Elizabeth — you promise — never — never speak of it?”

And when she came again, Sir Edward Morgan was dead.
posted by Literaryhero at 9:43 PM on September 30, 2019 [1 favorite]


I thank you for this post and I'm adding it to my favorites as something to explore when I'm in the right frame of mind to tackle this topic.
posted by hippybear at 9:54 PM on September 30, 2019 [5 favorites]


What Does It Feel Like to Die?

Like tears...in rain...
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:04 PM on September 30, 2019 [21 favorites]


Either this Professional White Background goes, or I do.
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:08 PM on September 30, 2019 [11 favorites]


I'm too anti-death to read this. However, I know someone who once told me that when his brother dies it was like that. He literally just died mid-conversation. This has haunted me ever since. His brother died of AIDS, I believe, which I would have thought was one of those break-you-down-slowly-one-agonizing-cell-at-a-time sort of things, but not always, I guess.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 10:39 PM on September 30, 2019 [3 favorites]


But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered country from whose bourn
No traveler returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?

posted by Wallace Shawn at 10:39 PM on September 30, 2019 [9 favorites]


Depictions of death on TV and in the movies are unrealistic; the characters are awake and carry on meaningful conversations, then suddenly close their eyes and die. That’s not how it works.

I agree. Some of my other objections to TV reality are fist fights with no lost teeth or eyes; casually shooting people in the arm, leg or shoulder with no apparent shock or loss of blood; knocking people over the head to sneak past them., the victims waking up as if after a nap; fires in closed structures where people act out lengthy scenes with flames in background. These are not minor issues as safety is concerned. Some dangerous people have likely "learned" from these scenes, which probably contributed to a lot of mayhem.
posted by Brian B. at 10:46 PM on September 30, 2019 [30 favorites]


I am noping out of this and I want people to know that it is okay to nope out of this thread if you’re like me and not always attached to wanting to live and feeling like you need to be seen yet also are not really sure if it’s okay to say anything about how you feel.
posted by nikaspark at 11:07 PM on September 30, 2019 [27 favorites]


What Does It Feel Like To Die? (Bustle)
1. You Lose Your Senses

According to palliative care specialist James Hallenbeck, who spoke with The Atlantic in 2016, something called “active dying” occurs during the final few days from someone who’s dying gradually. During this period, you tend to lose your senses in a particular order: Hunger and thirst are the first to go; then you lose the ability to speak, followed by the ability to see. Hearing and touch typically hold out a little longer, but they eventually go, too.
What It Feels Like to Die (Atlantic)
In her last couple of weeks, when my mother’s mind seemed to be floating off somewhere else most of the time, she would sometimes lift her arms into the air, plucking at invisible objects with her fingers. Once, I captured her hands in mine and asked what she’d been doing. “Putting things away,” she answered, smiling dreamily.
posted by pracowity at 11:28 PM on September 30, 2019 [11 favorites]


I am a morbidly obese male, with congestive heart failure and the diabeetus. I live with death every day. On good days I am just happy to make it to tomorrow. On bad days, I get tired of it all and wish death would come for me quickly. I totally get the wishing for the control part of the article. I'd like to go out in control. I'd hate to shit myself and make a real mess for the EMT's when they come for me. I only have one real fear, in the dying process. I do not want my cats to eat my face. Not so much for my personal fears, of losing my face, but I want my family to take my cats after I pass, and I'd hate for them to have to live with my cats knowing that they'd eaten my face off. Seriously, that scares the shit out of me. I've had two close calls already. One happened when I had a severe infection in my legs, and the other when I was diagnosed with the heart failure. I've always been a fan of meditation and Alan Watts. Listening to many of his lectures has helped me come to grips with my mortality. I was a caregiver for my Mother when she went through chemo, and passed from liver cancer. I experienced her death, and I think it helped me also understand my own, when it comes. She just faded out. She lost her speech first, and then she lost her cognitive functions next, and then her ability to move, and then she drifted off. Liver cancer is a terrible way to go, and is very, very painful. The morphine helped with her transition I am sure. I'd personally like to go out tripping balls on LSD or DMT. I think that would be a gas.
posted by CygnusXII at 12:13 AM on October 1, 2019 [40 favorites]


When I die, I want to

[just like that]

(That's right, I want to go like Tommy Cooper.)
posted by pracowity at 12:48 AM on October 1, 2019 [3 favorites]


I have to tell you all, this subject is a real problem for me. All of my life I had read about people dying, and how across cultures many people experienced many of the same things as they slid from one side to the other.* So anyways, I've read all of these accounts of people dying, any time I come across one, and yes, I've read The Tibetan Book Of The Dead, blah blah blah. I've been really interested in it.
* I realize that many here (at good ol' MetaFilter) see this stuff as hogwash, as foolishness, as Totally Not Scientific And Stuff and I am willing to expose myself as who I am because hey, why not? I've told you all here so many other much more deeply personal things about my life that to hide this would be ridiculous. Which I am, but still.

And then I died. In the pickup of a friend of mine, on my way to Brackenridge hospital. (Hint: Any time you find yourself dying, head to Brack. They really know what they're about. I, personally, I just won't go anywhere else.) I was dead in his pickup a looooooong time without oxygen, and it seems that brains don't like that part. (I've timed that ride, any number of times, at ten or twelve minutes after 8:00 AM Tuesday mornings, back there in July and August 2004, and the best time I ever made was eight minutes. The fact that I am even alive, much less aware that I am, it's pretty much Not Possible. I'm my cardiologists favorite save.**) They took one look, saw what condition I was in (dead) they wheeled out a gurney, yanked me out of that truck, cut off my clothes, slapped an oxygen mask on me, and began beating on me and shocking the living dogshit out of me, etc and etc. It was another 13 minutes before they got a heartbeat but they had oxygen on me so hey, my brain was happier. I died twice more that day, once still in the ER, then that night in intensive care -- it really was a hell of a day, from what I'm told.
**If you want to read about it all, I've written it here before.

Read that last bit again: "From what I'm told." *That's* the point of why I'm writing here, other than it's a fun story -- I don't remember any of it. You go on, go eight minutes without oxygen, you're not going to remember anything. I easy could have ended up like that guy in the movie Momento (though considerably better looking, were you to ask me) but inside two or three weeks I mostly was able to remember things. But I don't remember anything from the day I died, back to the night before, and I don't remember a damn thing about dying. Or being dead, either. I can't tell you how annoying this is to me. I hope in upwards of 497 ways that I got to see my ex-wife, and hang out with her some, maybe go to a show with Stevie Ray Vaughan and Janice Joplin in a park here in town -- wouldn't that be a great show? I think so.
posted by dancestoblue at 1:02 AM on October 1, 2019 [54 favorites]


(Hint: Any time you find yourself dying, head to Brack. They really know what they're about. I, personally, I just won't go anywhere else.)

PSA: Demolition has apparently begun on Brackenridge hospital, so don't go there unless you want to die, perhaps spectacularly.
posted by pracowity at 2:49 AM on October 1, 2019 [4 favorites]


My dad died in June over the course of a couple of weeks - months really if you count from the broken hip that set off his final decline. I made it home for the last 6 days and I sincerely wish it had been a lot more like the movies. I would rather he had died suddenly and without the slow miserable hell in the hospital even if it meant I missed seeing him again.
posted by jacquilynne at 4:05 AM on October 1, 2019 [7 favorites]


Silverlake Life: The View From Here was broadcast on a PBS station few days after my dad's brain tumour diagnosis in 93. It served as my road map in the following months and took away some of the terror around not knowing what to expect.
posted by bonobothegreat at 4:11 AM on October 1, 2019 [3 favorites]




My father died of a ruptured aortic aneurysm he did not know he had. He had been outside snowblowing the driveway, and when he went back in the house, he didn't feel well, so he laid down on the couch. He spoke to my mother on the phone, and she was so concerned about the way he sounded, she sent my youngest brother to go check on him. By the time my brother got to my parents' house, my father was gone. Less than 10 minutes. When I think about the various ways people die, I think I would rather go quickly like that or a sudden cardiac arrest, without having to know.
posted by briank at 4:57 AM on October 1, 2019 [9 favorites]


No one can ask for more than dying unexpectedly and their own couch just after having talked to their caring spouse.
posted by pracowity at 5:36 AM on October 1, 2019 [20 favorites]


"When I die, I want to go peacefully in my sleep like my grandfather. Not screaming in terror, like the passengers in his car."
posted by thelonius at 5:42 AM on October 1, 2019 [33 favorites]


Truly, that is my go-to comment about dying, thelonius.
posted by TrishaU at 5:46 AM on October 1, 2019 [2 favorites]


My mother-in-law's last few days in hospice were restless. She went from long, nuanced conversations on a Friday to repetitive, short speech on Tuesday, to her death rattle on Thursday. In those last semi-coherent words, she alternated between "I love you" and "I can't find God"--she had been a chaplain for many years, and was an ordained minister--and in her hands, she worried a small ball of black yarn, which was, for her, a tie to a deep childhood sadness and a way of tethering herself to her dead mother. I held her hand as she died. She was not alone. But I still grieve over her internal state as she was dying, and her agitation over losing connection with the living, the dead, the holy.
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:51 AM on October 1, 2019 [14 favorites]


If the movies and TV seem insufficiently unrealistic, you should try opera!
o·pe·ra
/ˈäp(ə)rə/
noun
A situation where some guy gets stabbed, and instead of dying, he sings.
posted by Aardvark Cheeselog at 6:00 AM on October 1, 2019 [16 favorites]


"When I die, I want to go peacefully in my sleep like my grandfather. Not screaming in terror, like the passengers in his car."

I want to die in bed at the age of 95, shot by a jealous husband.
posted by TedW at 6:36 AM on October 1, 2019 [2 favorites]


"I don't want to achieve immortality through my work; I want to achieve immortality through not dying."
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 7:04 AM on October 1, 2019 [6 favorites]


Hearing and touch typically hold out a little longer, but they eventually go, too.

Now I feel sad. I sat with my father as he died, I should have held his hand.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:19 AM on October 1, 2019 [3 favorites]


A situation where some guy gets stabbed, and instead of dying, he sings.

Ooooowwww! Ooooowwww! OooooOOOOOOWWWWW!
The motherfucker
(chorus: motherfucker motherfucker motherfucker)
has just stabbed me! He fuckin' stabbed me!
(chorus: motherfucker motherfucker motherfucker)
Right throooooooough the HEEAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRT!
(chorus: motherfucker motherfucker motherfucker)
The HEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRT!
posted by pracowity at 7:31 AM on October 1, 2019 [13 favorites]


My fathers death was pretty much bad news -- he had a brain tumor and ended up confused and jangled and I think he had Alzheimer's also (all of his sibs suffered Alz at the end of their lives, but his neurologist was all Brain Tumor! Brain Tumor! Nothing Else! Brain Tumor! about it so whatever) and all of his adult life he'd lived with my mother, including this nice assisted living setup they'd found, but then he ended up on the wrong side of the locked doors of the memory ward and cried and ached and just could not understand why he couldn't be with my mother. He had an old checkbook and he wrote checks to pay bills that were only in his mind somewhere. He had shaving cream that he spread all over his room one night. He was losing all of his dignity. He was losing shitloads of weight. He was lost.

Fortunately, it went fast. Maybe six months of crying on that goddamned memory ward. He was 84.

One thing that I think is pretty amazing is that in prayer my father was absolutely present and aware and cognizant; he and I were talking on the phone one afternoon and he was lost and it was just heart-breaking and then he said or I said "Hey, let's pray." and in prayer he knew exactly what was going on with the people in New Orleans suffering Katrina, prayed that any who needed help could find it, prayed that any who needed peace be given it. Other sibs of mine had that same experience with him; it was like "Hey, if you want to hear from Dad, pray with him." Prayer was a constant in their home; I had no idea how unusual it was until years later. Or, rather, I knew it was unusual -- I didn't know that others would see it as beautiful, or powerful, or both, I didn't know that friends of mine who ate at our table were pissed off at me when I kicked them under the table while my father was praying and stuck my tongue out at them and/or flipped them off etc.

~~~~~

My mother had a pretty damn good death. She outlived all of her sibs, and all of my fathers sibs, too, and no one was more surprised about that than she was. She'd had heart problems -- it was her side of the family that gave me the heart attacks that I had, my mother had one almost exactly a year to the day after I had mine and if you looked at pictures of our hearts, the blockages were in the exact same place, the before and after stent pictures looked identical. She lived because she was in the hospital with a broken leg when she had the heart attack, she didn't die, they popped that stent in and she was A-OK. She'd had other heart attacks, one at 60, she had angina, she pretty much figured she'd slide on out the door early. Nope.

Biggest problem? Pain. Both shoulders bone on bone, one hip bone on bone, she lived on morphine and I am incredibly glad it was there for her. She suffered the indignities of being warehoused in what was called assisted living but was really an "old peoples home" AKA warehouses of people wearing diapers with shit in them and on and on.

Fortunately for her, she had seven children, four of whom (myself included) are complete psychos if you don't treat me mother right -- it got to where she didn't even want to tell me anything because I can, with just a few phone calls, I can make flags run up and down poles, I can find the pressure points and put just a bit of pressure on them, letting the people know that I will gouge them hard as I can if they fuck with me. It's fun! So though it wasn't ideal it was as good as we could get it, my mother got top of the line care available in the places she was in.

She had a telephone. And us kids. And grandkids. And since she was the last of the old crew, a lot of my cousins called her also, as she was a line to their parents. So she had people, she had love, and lots of it.

We became friends, better than any other time in my life. She finally (mostly) shut the fuck up about Jesus and Leviticus and all the rest of those bums, so I didn't have to keep my guard up. We talked about poetry, told one another our favorite poems -- hers was "O Captain! My Captain!" by Walt Whitman, written shortly after Lincoln was assassinated, Whitman laying out his grief about the loss of Lincoln. Wikipedia I found all kinds of stuff online -- history of the poem, drafts of the poem, etc and etc, and printed a bunch of it out and mailed it to her -- she loved it. It was really fun. And I told her about a poem my father had told me about -- he's always said something about "crossing the bar" and one night, at our kitchen table, he in a short-sleeve work shirt, heavy, cheap work shoes on his feet, maybe working a crossword puzzle, one night I asked him about it, what was it, and he got an encyclopedia and showed it to me. Crossing The Bar -- Tennyson Wikipedia It's a poem I love, though I've not committed it to memory. I told her about another favorite, The Winds Of Fate by Ella Wheeler Wilcox Wikipedia

We spoke one night, a nice conversation. She told me about a book she'd started, and was enjoying, we rang off in a good way "I love you, Mom." and "I love you, Stephen" and it was nice. The next day she was working on that book, she had lunch, settled back into the book, set the book down and began to glide out of here. You don't start a new book if you think you're headed out of here, seems to me. She slowly faded out, her body slowly shutting down, maybe a period of 16 hours and she was gone. A great way to go, seems to me. Absolutely no fear, no pain, just a nice slide out the door.

She was 92.

~~~~~

An older brother, oat cell lung cancer. That's the lung cancer you don't want to get. Radiation. Chemo. Hair gone. He was strong, it took some time. He was in denial, all the way up to the end -- I was amazed, but people do what they're going to do. The chemo/radiation stopped it in its tracks, but the instant the treatment stopped the cancer came back, and with a vengeance. Two or three times of that. Then his cancer doc told him one day "Nothing else to be done. The show is over. We have nothing for you, nor does anyone else." The cancer set in and set in hard and set in fast -- thank god for the fast part. It had spread all over, many of the bones in his spine were breaking, day by day. It was a fucking horror show.

Hospice had shown up, and I'd bet they'd have helped him out the door. But he couldn't do that. Because Jesus wouldn't stand for that. It would be Wrong. He might Go To Hell. So he lived with breaking bones, he lived the last ten days with a huge honkin' tumor in his throat that was limiting and then stopped him from getting any water down his throat. Talking to him on the telephone was torture, he's in agony and waiting for Jesus to give him water once he clears this side. A horrific death. And it didn't need to be that way.

He was 63.

~~~~

Those are the deaths I have been closest to. A mixed bag.

One this is for sure: If I ever hear that the game is over, I am so out of here. I won't cut and run, I'll say my goodbyes, say my "I love yous." to important people in my life. But then, I'm outta here. I don't care if I have to buy the shit off the street. Or of course I could use helium. Fast and easy and damn near free.

I hope that any/all of us in this thread get a fine death, without fear.
posted by dancestoblue at 7:39 AM on October 1, 2019 [29 favorites]


When I died it was just like falling asleep. Apparently I died several times.
No I didn't dream!
posted by Burn_IT at 7:56 AM on October 1, 2019 [2 favorites]


My father-in-law didn't arrive for dinner one Friday evening and didn't pick up the phone, so I drove over to his place. He was in his favourite armchair, newspaper still in his hands, a cooling cup of tea on the table. Massive stroke, apparently, at the age of 83. Still driving, just bought a new computer...

That's the way I want to go. And not like the way my parents are heading now *sigh*
posted by 43rdAnd9th at 8:35 AM on October 1, 2019 [4 favorites]


My grandfather's 4th heart attack in his early 70's was massive and nearly killed him - he'd always been fairly active, but a lifetime of meat 'n' taters cooking took its toll. He woke up a couple days later in the hospital having had an emergency quadruple bypass; at the time (early 80's, I think?) the doctors told him the operation probably gave him about 5 years. 6 or 7 years later he was on the golf course with some friends when they suddenly noticed he wasn't with them anymore - they found him face-down on the fairway. The examiner said he was probably dead before he hit the ground.

I'd prefer to skip the preliminary heart attacks - fortunately my diet's a good bit healthier than his was - but the "out like a light" factor sounds like a pretty good way to go (assuming it's not while I'm driving, as per the joke upthread).
posted by Greg_Ace at 8:59 AM on October 1, 2019 [3 favorites]


One this is for sure: If I ever hear that the game is over, I am so out of here.

Totally with you here. I was exposed to my father's brutal death from cancer when I was a child. It was, well, not a positive experience. I remember him screaming at my mother to bring him his gun. I remember a lot of things I shouldn't have had to see or hear. We think they finally more or less OD'd him on morphine in the hospital to end his suffering; there had been a kind of coded conversation between my mother and the doctors about how aggressively we wanted them to extend what was left of his life. If so, they did the right thing. It was ghastly.
posted by thelonius at 9:17 AM on October 1, 2019 [6 favorites]


[Couple comments deleted. Sorry, I know people are coming from different places with this, and everybody means well, but we can't have suicide-method talk here.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 9:32 AM on October 1, 2019 [15 favorites]


My father died doing what he loved the most: ruining everyone's Thanksgiving with his fucking drama.

ahem

Also, he died right in front of me, in a hospital-type bed in his living room, while listening to some reactionary radio-host that he was into. The hospice worker suggested to me that I should make my Mom go walk the dog or something since she wouldn't leave his side and he might have been holding on because of that. (It was on me to be the one to handle this shit because I was the one most abused by him, I guess.) He was already making that death-rattle noise, which if you have never heard it I hope you never have to. I suspect the hospice person may have actually euthanized him - she gave him way more morphine than I thought was supposed to be administered. Like he was supposed to get just a drop or two and she squirted a couple of droppersful of it into his mouth. No complaints from me about that - I may resent him for the rest of my life but I'm still ok with him having had a few moments of painlessness and peace before his death. He was incoherent and mentally gone, and the hospice worker basically pressured him (a lifelong atheist) to mumble that he accepted Jesus. I hope she goes to Christian Hell for that, it seems like a completely egregious ethical breach. Anyway, I convinced Mom to go walk the dog and while she was outside Dad just stopped making noise and that was it. My brothers were still en route from out-of-state, and Mom was (understandably) upset that he died while she was out walking the dog, even though that was kind of the point, and she asked me to close his eyes, and you know how in movies when someone dies they just gently close their eyelids with their fingers? Well, it turns out that real dead human eyelids don't actually work like that and I was just messing up my Dad's dead face. Tried pinching the eyelashes and pulling down and that didn't work and I should not be the one messing with a corpse. So I went to see if the hospice person had left any benzos or anything so I could numb myself out and my brother came in and bitched that I hadn't covered Dad's body with a sheet or anything, and he had to see it.

In conclusion death sucks and I do not recommend it.
posted by Cookiebastard at 11:06 AM on October 1, 2019 [11 favorites]


I have to declare a professional link with the author, but if you're interested in this area then Kathryn Mannix's With The End In Mind is also an excellent read.
posted by YoungStencil at 11:30 AM on October 1, 2019 [2 favorites]


I'd like to get hit by lightning and just, BOOM! Go out instantly. Preferably while hiking somewhere beautiful. I'm told, however, that most lightning strike patients survive, just not always in the best condition, so I'm not sure it's worth it to hope for a lightning strike. I don't want to wind up only partially fried.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 3:04 PM on October 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


You know, it strikes me, reading this thread, that although most of us are quick to say that the ideal death would be the devastating lightning strike or the massive stroke or heart attack, there are actually some nice things about having a death that's not quite so instantaneous.

As I mentioned in a recent post, I help people with medically assisted death here in Canada. I would never say that each and every one was an idyllic blend of celebration and wistfulness and reflection, but it does happen. And I'm sure that the process of planning such a thing can be surreal, to say the least, ("You free Monday morning at 11, Jim?") but there's something to be said about tying up all your loose ends, gathering your loved ones around you, and saying goodbye before nodding off to a peaceful sleep. (For one thing, you get a chance to delete all your embarrassing social media posts before they're locked in perpetuity.) Even if it's only for the sake of giving everyone else a chance to be there and alleviating the guilt that people often have when they are not present to witness the death of someone close. And especially if it means avoiding, say, what dancestoblue had to go through with their brother.

Looking forward to reading the book, though; I think it'll make a great resource for my patients.
posted by greatgefilte at 3:41 PM on October 1, 2019 [9 favorites]


there are actually some nice things about having a death that's not quite so instantaneous.

sure, as long as it doesn't feature stuff like fracturing your femur by rolling over in bed
posted by thelonius at 3:57 PM on October 1, 2019 [2 favorites]


I was going to talk about the only person who I saw decline from illness, the woman who basically took over as "Mom" once I left Wisconsin for NYC, who'd been told that I needed a mom and decided that she'd step up. I knew her as Mom for 7 years.

Anyway, I realized I can't go into it. She died at home, it was peaceful, she had all her faculties until her last few minutes. She didn't want me to see her die. She was surrounded by her children, though, and I'm glad for that. She had a good death.
posted by droplet at 3:59 PM on October 1, 2019 [8 favorites]


Back-to-back reading of Caitlin Doughty's Smoke Gets in Your Eyes & Other Lessons From the Crematory and Sarah Krasnostein's The Trauma Cleaner is making me stop and consider the pragmatic side of end-of-life anew.
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:12 PM on October 1, 2019 [2 favorites]


there are actually some nice things about having a death that's not quite so instantaneous.

sure, as long as it doesn't feature stuff like fracturing your femur by rolling over in bed


Apologies, that's not what I meant to convey at all. It sounds like what you had to witness was truly horrific, especially as a child. I'm sorry you had to see that, and I'm thankful every day that I'm able to help people have an easy and gentle way out so they can avoid precisely that kind of experience. I was just making the point that being in good health and then suddenly dropping dead is not always the panacea that it's made out to be.
posted by greatgefilte at 6:33 PM on October 1, 2019 [3 favorites]


Thomas Lynch's The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade is a great book on the topic from a poet/funeral home director.
posted by kirkaracha at 6:55 PM on October 1, 2019


Well it is I who should apologize, greatgefilte - you are right that it is worth thinking about what a better death could be, but I had just dragged up some old wounds, thinking about this, and maybe overreacted. I didn't take you as being hurtful to me. I don't think I appreciated, for many many years, how traumatized I was by that experience.
posted by thelonius at 7:24 PM on October 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


Just to give credit, I am 90% sure the "not screaming and on fire like his passengers" joke is one of Emo Phillips'.

True story, my grandfather died suddenly on the toilet after relieving himself and he was literally found (by my cousin) with a huge smile on his face. That sounds just about perfect to me.
posted by Joey Michaels at 7:25 PM on October 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


Just to give credit, I am 90% sure the "not screaming and on fire like his passengers" joke is one of Emo Phillips'.

No, it's by Jack Handey.
posted by thelonius at 7:30 PM on October 1, 2019 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I’m with thelonius on this. My father-in-law’s death of kidney failure was brutal. There was none of this happy-crappy about comforting dreams or peacefully slipping away. He was in nightmare hallucinations and in pain until the end. Christ, we let him suffer in thirst for a full day because we did not know he was still with us enough to feel thirsty, but he was, and he came back enough to beg us for water before the end, and I want to fucking execute myself for war crimes every time I think about that. Bullshit does thirst go away first.

Intellectually I realize that not all deaths are like that one, but I am also convinced that every soothing, comforting story about death being peaceful or merciful is just pure fiction to let the still-living ever sleep again in their lives.
posted by snowmentality at 9:06 PM on October 1, 2019 [5 favorites]


A drink -- it won't hurt. It feels so good. It soothes that ache.

If you're not an alcoholic you can't possibly begin to understand what a drink does for an alcoholic, what it gives an alcoholic. "Goddamn, I'm just going to take that one drink. Or two maybe."

And now it's game on.

Christopher. My nephew. He had this smile. People would stop my sister, in grocery store, or anywhere else, in awe of how beautiful Chris was -- he literally made people stop.

My favorite family member. He called me "My brother from my mothers mother." and that is what we were. He felt everything, same as I do. Both of us with this manic depression thing. Both of us alcoholic. One of us with the gift of being clean and sober, the other without that gift.

I never, ever thought it would end as it did. I cannot tell you how bad this hurts. I'm supposed to know that this thing will kill, that it doesn't give a shit about love, or anything else. I'm supposed to know that it'll take you any way it can get you. I'm supposed to know how good alcoholics are at hiding the extent.

We spoke almost every night, that last 8 months or so, maybe a year. "Chris, this thing is real." "Chris, you've got to set it down." "Chris, you've been given any number of reprieves, you just can't keep this up."

I could tell when he'd been drinking. I could not have told you how much he was drinking. He was really, really talented.

As much as I knew about what he was up to, the shock of that fucking phone call -- it was like getting kicked in the guts. It was like getting hit by a fucking car. My sister said that when she saw him on that bed, he had a bit of a smile on him, like maybe he'd found the peace. It's all that we have to hold on to.

Christopher was 44 years old.
posted by dancestoblue at 11:33 PM on October 1, 2019 [11 favorites]


Intellectually I realize that not all deaths are like that one, but I am also convinced that every soothing, comforting story about death being peaceful or merciful is just pure fiction to let the still-living ever sleep again in their lives.

Dignity in Dying (in the UK) has just released a report, "The Inescapable Truth", echoing that precisely. It's harrowing reading, for sure.
posted by greatgefilte at 4:34 AM on October 2, 2019 [3 favorites]


an indefinite death
is all we can imagine

a good death
is all we can wish for

the death we get
is the definite article
posted by pracowity at 11:32 AM on October 2, 2019 [2 favorites]


the death we get
is the definite article


No Returns or Refunds
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:02 PM on October 2, 2019 [1 favorite]


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