Patient: "There is no preparation for a death sentence, is there?"
Doctor: “There is a lifetime.”
For those who die swiftly there is usually the absence of pain and suffering and that is good. For those who die slowly, there is often the burden of pain and suffering which medical science cannot always fully remove. And this is the dark side of dying slowly. But there is a bright side which those who die swiftly never have the chance to experience. The bright side is having some time to review the years of your life which have gone by and perhaps finding meaning to living that you never really experienced previously. Dr. William G. Bartholome, M.D., a pediatrician and ethicist had a chance to die slowly with his esophageal cancer and he wrote about the bright side. (“Living in the Light of Death,” Bulletin 45(2): 52, University of Kansas Medical Center, April 1995)
To live in the bright light of death is to live a life in which colors and sounds and smells are all more intense, in which smiles and laughs are irresistibly infectious, in which touches and hugs are warm and tender almost beyond belief. To live in this awareness of who, what, and where I am is to live more fully than I ever dreamed possible. Life doesn’t seem like a box of chocolates; it seems like endless servings of incredibly rich chocolate mousse.
I had not known this kind of living before. I wish that the “final” chapter in all your stories will be one in which you are given the gift of some time to live with whatever illness proves to be your fatal illness. But even more, I wish that you could discover what I now know — that this is the only way for us humans to live!
Dr. Bartholome died August 2nd 1999. ..Maurice.
p.s. (Added 2-26-05) For those who would like to learn more about dying from the aspect of the dying patient, the family, physicians and hospice care, click
here to go to NPR and "All Things Considered" for transcripts and audio (you need RealPlayer). This location contains the beginning segment of a week-long presentation of death and dying produced in 1997.