During my many years of medical practice, I made many house calls on folks who were going to their eternal rest. Often, loved ones from the family suggested that the person be hospitalized. In some cases, I had no alternative but to do so. After surveying the home conditions, if they were accommodating, I often suggested to the family that I would take care of the patient at home until he or she had completed the journey to the everlasting.
I am convinced that patients’ lives are extended when they are kept at home. They can hear familiar voices and songs. They can see familiar faces of their loved ones. Often, they can taste that home-style food, which gives them nourishment. They are comfortable in clean beds with fluffy pillows and warm blankets. They can feel the touch of kind and gentle hands. All of their five senses are satisfied as they begin their death dream, knowing that they will awaken satisfied with going home from home.
After reading Ethical Ambition: Living a Life of Meaning and Worth, by the great author Derrick Bell, who recently passed, I was struck by the following passage, which crystallizes my thoughts on life and death:
Life is a gift that can be revoked at any time, and that, at some point, will come to an end. And, at that end, we know our work will not be completed. Perfection will have evaded us as it has for all who came before us. If there is satisfaction, it must come from our striving toward that vision of a better world.
Bell also quotes from Tuesdays With Morrie, a book by Mitch Albom. Morrie, while suffering from the last stages of Lou Gehrig’s disease, tells his former student Mitch:
Everyone knows that they are going to die, but nobody believes it. If we did, we would do things differently….There’s a better approach. To know you’re going to die, and to be prepared for it at any time. That’s better. That way, you can actively be more involved in your life while you are living.” After I read these statements from this wonderful book again, my philosophy of life and death was also strengthened.
Another wonderful book, The Deep Calling to the Deep; Facing Death, by Rev. Paul Smith, senior minister of the First Presbyterian Church of Brooklyn Heights, describes his experiences in helping others face death. This book should be read by everyone, since we all will be facing death. Smith gives a day-to-day account of his ministry to six folks who were dying and how they and their families were comforted to know that death is not the worst thing that can happen in your life. Smith writes about the “good death” and quotes Dr. Howard Thurman as follows: “A good death is made up of the same elements as a good life.”
What are a good life and a good death? I suggest that you read this enlightened work and find out. I certainly did. I believe that all physicians, medical students and theologians should read this book as an essential part of their training.
Going up yonder, I feel, completes our journey on this planet, a most desirable conclusion.
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