How We Choose to Die

I hate to be morbid in writing blog posts, but I’m in a bit of a run of people I know dying. It reminds me of a stretch earlier in life when Jerry and I kept receiving word that couples we knew and thought were doing okay announced that they were getting divorced. For awhile, the announcements seemed to be coming thick and fast, then things again settled down.

The latest is a friend from earlier in life, a PhD virologist who died, by her own choice, essentially alone and untreated for colon cancer. She worked in a major medical center and had access to excellent cancer care, but chose not to avail herself of it. She had family and friends who cared about her, but chose not to involve them in her illness. Finally she missed several days of work, and when someone went to check on her, that person found her in a desperate condition and called an ambulance. My friend did die in the hospital, arriving there far too late for anything to be done.

We don’t choose how we come into the world, but in a situation like this, we can choose how to go out of it. I wonder — not in a judgmental sense but out of curiosity — why anyone would choose to suffer alone for many months, and to die alone. My friend is not the first to do this; photographer Diane Arbus committed suicide by slitting her wrists, then climbing into her empty bathtub to bleed out — apparently unconcerned that one of her daughters might be the one to grow concerned about not hearing from her and go to the apartment to check.

My friend, I am sure, could have asked more of the people around her. That she chose not to do so will remain a mystery, one that the people who cared about her and considered her a friend will have to accept.

Not a choice I would make.

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