In 2011, Susan Spencer-Wendel, a journalist and mother of three young children, was diagnosed with motor neurone disease and given a prognosis of 3 to 5 years (http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2013/mar/16/motor-neurone-disease-goodbye-dying). As her disease progressed, she has chosen to spend her time making the most of every moment. She made a list of things she wanted to do, including trips with each of the people she loves. She has now written a book, Until I Say Good-bye, which procured an advance of $2m, plus film rights for a further $2m, and which has facilitated achieving most of her goals thus far, as well as allowing her husband to give up his job and look after her.

Even now, as she becomes increasingly incapacitated and dependent, she continues to ‘do’, and to live.

People deal very differently with the fact that death is going to happen much sooner that they had anticipated. We are all going to die, but mostly we live our lives denying this. Faced with a life-threatening illness and no hope of cure, there seems to be a spectrum of coping strategies. At one end of the continuum are those who ‘make the most’ of what time is left. At the other end are those who socially die at diagnosis. Perhaps the majority lie somewhere in between.

There is no right or wrong as to how we deal with our dying, although how we ‘manage’ it does have an impact on those left behind. Susan Spence-Wendel’s husband made an interesting observation:

“It may sound strange, but living with joy isn’t easy. It’s hard. You make your decisions about how you approach things. Susan works at being happy.’

On the flip side, it is also very difficult to witness the unsharable suffering of those who socially die well before physical death.

I believe that how we have lived our lives reflects how we live our dying. and pretty much determines how we deal with the knowledge that death is at once undeniable and soon.

CQ

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