April 5, 2011


My friend, who has fought cancer for so long is finally about to succumb (blog: 12/20/2010). His doctor gives him a year to live, though how a doctor makes this prediction is a mystery to me. Only the patient’s body holds the truth, a truth it communicates as a slow, painful decline. Drugs can mask the course of the disease, it’s true, but how will the mind react, being forced to observe its demise? Behavior is hard to foresee. Death, after all, may be common, but it is never ordinary.

A mutual friend wrote to commiserate with me, agreeing the news was sad, but remarking that the man in question had lived so long with his disease, it was probable he would face his end well. I read these words several times but never came close to understanding them. What does it mean… to die well? Does it mean he will die without a fuss so that those around him won’t feel uncomfortable? Are we to rejoice in the knowledge that he accepts his fate?

I had a friend who accepted hers. Upon an agreed hour and day a doctor entered her room and handed her a glass of water and a pill. At 9 a.m. she was alive and talking. At 9:05 she fell silent. She had arranged for her suicide with all the tidy efficiency of one making a hair appointment.

 I do not subscribe to a life that fades without fireworks. I hope my friend who has yet to keep his appointment with death will pardon me for saying that I believe an imploding life deserves a period of anger and defiance. We are not candles to be snuffed out quietly. Let the prelude of our passing be a supernova. When my friend dies, I want my tears to gleam in the brilliance of his departing spirit.

           “…And you, my [friend], there are on the sad height,

          Curse, bless me now and with your fierce tears, I pray.

          Do not go gentle into that good night.

          Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” 

          (Dylan Thomas – “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night”)