Are You Talking?

Today Roberta died. At 93. She had been “ready” for at least two years. And I will never forget at least one of her legacies.

Given my interest in the paradox of living while dying, or, dying while living, I find myself drawn to those who are more consciously doing so. Roberta was one of those.

In one sense she had a good death in that it was uncomplicated by illness and extensive hospitalization, given that she was ready to die.  She came down to meals when she felt able, dependent on her walker, noticeably losing weight and energy, living more or less independently in our senior residence. She was found dead in her apartment on March 8, 2018.

In another sense,  she did not have a good dying. I am aware that for at least two years, she had been wanting to die. In snippets of conversations I learned how she struggled to remain “useful” when she could no longer sew, quilt, or paint. She reported that in family visits, her children wouldn’t let her do anything..not cook which she liked to do, or other tasks which were easy for her. Several times over the past two years, she had announced publicly in our remaining days conversation group, “I am so ready to die. But my children aren’t interested in listening to what I have to say about that.”

Now I wonder if she or her family ever achieved the closure of a good bye—a real goodbye with lots of time to talk about life and death — the good times and the bad, and the special memories that will never fade.

Living very much on the periphery of her life, I have no idea what occurred during her last months. Perhaps she girded her loins, exercised her courage, and told her family in no uncertain terms what she wanted to talk about.

If not, I can only hope that the family denial, combined with her unexpected demise,  did not lock out the possibility of a terrific send-off which Roberta might have had a part in planning.

I will never forget Roberta, who provided me the picture of one version of dying, which included unnecessary frustration and suffering. Alongside came the unexplored and unrealized possibilities for a very good dying.  Her death was a sad, albeit clarifying, event for me.

I’m left with the reminder of two questions which it’s never too soon to deal with:  Regarding intentions, hopes and dreams for remaining days, to whom do I/you need to listen? To whom do you/I need to talk?

Thank you, Roberta, and may you rest in peace.

  1. Thank you, Martha, for sharing this reflection. One question that is in my mind after reading this is whether a social worker or personal coach might have been able to facilitate a conversation between this woman and her children regarding her wishes for the end of life, or even about how to live each day. It is sad that she didn’t feel that her family was listening to her.

    • Thanks Joanna. You raise a good point. For some folks a kind of outside help, particularly anything that resembles “therapy” is considered invasive. As you well know as a person who has been trying to shed some light on these issues for a long time, conversation about dying in our society still resides in the realm of fear. That will be changing. There are a growing number of folks in geriatric care management who are/and will be taking on some of these tasks.

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