Wednesday, May 16, 2012

I have been thinking today about how much both the internet and media have facilitated the possibility of a portrayal and a sharing of the experience of death and dying. TV screenings have included the 2011 BBC documentary ‘Inside the Human Body’, where Gerald, who suffered from lung cancer, died as we watched, and two portrayals of dying on the screen following self-assisted suicide with Dignitas in Switzerland, Craig Ewert who suffered from Lou Gehring’s disease in ‘Right to Die’ (2008), and Peter Smedley, who had motor neuron disease, in ‘Choosing to Die’ (2011).

There was much public outrage following these screenings. Viewers were shocked, which pretty much proves the point and the importance of ‘Dying Matters’ ( The reality of our mortality is perhaps too much, and we struggle to bear witness to the fact of it. Deny it and it may not happen… which is of course untrue, but it is a fundamental untruth that society too often appears to collude with.

The internet, and blogging, have served to create a platform where everything, including death and dying, can be chronicled and shared, a sharing that can help the sufferer, and fellow sufferers, feel less alienated and isolated.

Christopher Hitchens, in his regular Vanity Fair column, openly shared his experience of being diagnosed with cancer, the experience of living with it, and the increasing reality of his death. He wanted to ‘to’ death in the ‘active not the passive sense’ ( He debunked the myth “Whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.” The reality was there were “progressive weaknesses that in a more “normal” life might have taken decades to catch up with me. But, as with the normal life, one finds that every passing day represents more and more relentlessly subtracted from less and less. In other words, the process both etiolates you and moves you nearer toward death. How could it be otherwise? ”

How could it be otherwise, indeed. But that is exactly what we seem to desire, something ‘other’, where a denial of death may, irrationally and unbelieveably, actually prevent it from happening.

‘Often awesome’ follows the last months, and death, of Timothy LaFollette, who suffered from Lou Gehrig’s disease ( All involved are devastated by his illness and his impending death, but there is a (reluctant) acceptance of its inevitability, and we are generously invited to watch and to share.

These, and so many others, are brave people, and we are lucky that they choose to share their stories, amidst the enormity of their suffering and pain.

The very least we can do is to accept their invitation, to acknowledge their experience, and to bear witness to their living and to their dying.