My last-living uncle died last month at 92. He exemplified the Greatest Generation. Drafted at age 19, he fought in the Battle of the Bulge. After the war, he finished his college degree and returned to the small town where he grew up to run the family hardware store. He was a large part of the glue that held his community together, and his family and town returned his devotion with love.
Most relevant to this blog, he died a good death, lucid to the end.
I don’t begrudge him this. And I am happy that my mother, his sister, also possessed a clear mind to her final day, even requesting her last cup of coffee from my son.
Part of me, though, deeply regrets that my father was not accorded that dignity, and that J is long past the point where she will die as the same person who lived.
One of the most awful aspects of Alzheimer’s disease is that it robs the family of the afflicted person long after that person has any awareness of who she was.
Spending time with my extended family after my uncle’s death leaves me praying for good deaths for everyone close to me. It also reminds me that while many of us have little to no control over how we die (although that is changing), we have almost complete control over how we live.
I have been studying a Jewish mystical text, the Zohar, with a friend of mine for the last few years. We have no idea what we’re doing. We don’t read Hebrew and can’t begin to unpack the dense readings. But the teachings often still resonate. I recently read about Abraham’s kindness and generosity. The commentary concluded: “The spiritual principle here is that each time we do for others and those in need, we actually do it for ourselves. It’s a gift to be able to help others….”
My uncle lived this principle. I hope to take that gift from him and do my best to live a good life, hoping it will lead to a good death — many years from now.