Dying is all around us, even the leaves on the trees (and leaves die very beautifully!) We think about it, avoid thinking about it or, as Exit members, work out how to end it peacefully and painlessly. And then often stop thinking about it!
But even though we can research and familiarise ourselves with methods of ending one’s own life to avoid a painful, undignified death – and that must be the biggest fear – there is still one more fear for many people: the moment of death itself.
Perhaps years of studying the subject has allowed me to feel at home with it enough to look on it as something good when it comes. Nothing more to say, nothing more to do. My life complete. It’s a little like the feeling of sending a book off to the publishers: the time to change anything has passed. All is set in stone. It’s the time when our life finally stands for what it is. I also find it tremendously motivating. How much can I do constructively while I am still alive? For what do I wish to use this amazing opportunity?
But I know, for others, even if they can be guaranteed a death without pain and indignity, the idea that all our senses suddenly cease, all our input, all our output, all “this” – all that you touch, see, taste, feel, love and experience in any and every way, is (for you) going to stop : that is still a fear for many. The reality of death still looms like some sort of surprise. Do you want to wake up one day, on the last day of your life and realise, “Oh! Surprise! The end!”?
Perhaps the certainty of a peaceful and dignified dying is only half of the story.
We often say, “All good things come to an end” – as if that were something to be regretted rather than accepted and even welcomed. Do we look forward to peace unutterable, rest?
Nelly Furtado, in her music video of the same name (filmed in the beautiful Puerto Rican rainforest), uses the phrase to reminisce about a former love affair. I liked the images of the ocean and the forest, but the words moved me less. Is life a love-affair with existence? The idea is too metaphysical to be of great comfort.
For the final chapter of The Exit Path, I researched the peer-reviewed coping techniques used in palliative care. There is an awful lot of flim-flam and well-meaning ideas, but to reach a general audience I wanted material that had been critically tested. A couple of specific meditation techniques came out tops. I also interviewed at some length people who might have to face it in practice, both for themselves and others, such as a military leader. The results, I found, were life-enhancing. It’s something people also say about our written material (on the physical methods of self-deliverance) – it gives them courage to go on, facing an unknown future with a degree of certainty. It’s a small contribution I hope I’ve made with my life, and one of the things that has given me purpose, though the letters of appreciation are always warmly welcomed!
If you make this decision, to avoid unbearable and unrelievable suffering at the end of life, perhaps that certainty is something you can share. Find a way to let others know that it is your decision and your alone. That it is a fulfilling one. Find the things that have been fulfilling in your life, and death can be a celebration of those very things accomplished.
Did you know? The cover photos from The Exit Path feature the cable car at Sugar Loaf Mountain (Rio de Janeiro) rising above the clouds. The allegory (on the back cover) relates to the sensation when the trip of a lifetime seems to be about to end badly. Rising above the earth, the cable car can be surrounded by cloud, and it can feel like the ecstasy of the wonderful views from the summit will be denied. But then the car bursts through the clouds. It was even better than expected. (Note: the cover photo has been reversed east to west for artistic reasons.)
May your life, and your dying, be wonderful.