Ganges River 2What is a good death? What defines a good death?

In a beautiful price on Public Radio International, Atul Gawande talked about the biggest checklist that relatives and an aging family have to make — what conditions should occur in which a family member should be allowed to die.

People talk about wanting to have a good death. I don’t know if I believe in a good death. There’s lots of things that aren’t dignified about dying. He soiled his bed. We had to put a urinary catheter in him when he became so paralyzed he couldn’t pee anymore. He was almost shrinking in front of us. How is dying ever at all acceptable? How is it ever anything other than this awful terrible thing?

The only way it is … is because we as human beings live for something bigger than ourselves.

But there was something about the ritual of the same thing that families have been going through for thousands of years and we were doing it. And you could almost feel the links of hands across generations.

What I felt on the Ganges was he had brought us there and connected himself to all that was important to him, but he was connecting us as well.

There was a kind of handoff occurring. That we are a link in chain and making a contribution that goes well beyond our own life. And that’s part of what makes dying tolerable. That’s what makes — being a mortal creature — tolerable.

As one who should have been dead already, I found this piece very moving. As a Buddhist, I don’t have a fear of death or unnatural hurry to get there. However, as man whose heart could give way at any moment, there have been many days I wish the Angel of Death would descend and carry me away.

But just as Atul Gawande noted, I long for the links – to look for my friend Ms. K., to touch the hand of a loved one, of those lost and of friends who’ve stood beside me for all these years. Yes, it’s about the links.

It’s in the links.