Good short life, short good death

Charles 4 Comments

Leonard Cohen, Dance Me to the End of Love, London 2009

Posted by Charles Cowling


I HAVE wonderful friends … one, from Texas, put a hand on my thinning shoulder, and appeared to study the ground where we were standing. He had flown in to see me.

“We need to go buy you a pistol, don’t we?” he asked quietly. He meant to shoot myself with. 

In addition to wonderful friends, New York Times journalist Dudley Clendinen has ALS, commonly called Motor Neurone Disease in the UK. In a very powerful piece he describes what he’s going to do about it.

There is no meaningful treatment. No cure. There is one medication, Rilutek, which might make a few months’ difference. It retails for about $14,000 a year. That doesn’t seem worthwhile to me. If I let this run the whole course, with all the human, medical, technological and loving support I will start to need just months from now, it will leave me, in 5 or 8 or 12 or more years, a conscious but motionless, mute, withered, incontinent mummy of my former self. Maintained by feeding and waste tubes, breathing and suctioning machines. 

No, thank you. I hate being a drag.  

I think it’s important to say that. We obsess in this country about how to eat and dress and drink, about finding a job and a mate. About having sex and children. About how to live. But we don’t talk about how to die. We act as if facing death weren’t one of life’s greatest, most absorbing thrills and challenges. Believe me, it is. This is not dull. But we have to be able to see doctors and machines, medical and insurance systems, family and friends and religions as informative — not governing — in order to be free. 

He’s not going to do anything to prolong his life:  “Lingering would be a colossal waste of love and money.”

Read the whole beautifully thought, beautifully written piece here.

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12 years ago

This is such a brave, warm, life affirming piece, Charles, Isn’t it ironic that, in a culture that touts choice as a right and responsibility, this choice is so often, so unreasonably denied.

Charles Cowling
12 years ago

It’s brilliant, isn’t it, Vale? I hope everyone’s clicking the link and reading the whole thing. We don’t often come across anything of this calibre and extraordinary humanity.

Denise Jones
12 years ago

It’s a beautiful piece of work. I would love to know what he has “decided upon” for when the time comes.

12 years ago

Well worth reading the whole piece, thanks for the prompt Charles. And so refreshing to hear someone say that knowing I’m going to die sooner rather than later is actually liberating rather than limiting. I think about death, and life, every day, and it makes me realize that those who say life isn’t a dress rehearsal but the real thing may have missed the mark. It’s all a dress rehearsal, and there is no real thing because what’s real cannot possibly end, or have begun for that matter. For me life’s certain end makes it an experiment – nothing hangs… Read more »