Two or three or four weeks ago, a reader commented that I should not tell anyone about my terminal cancer diagnosis because I would then be identified only by that fact instead of all the other descriptions that could be said of me.
Two assumptions come with that reasoning: (1) that I care if people know I am dying (I do not) and (2) that dying or, at least, talking about it is taboo.
The second item is all too true. In the U.S., we hide dying from friends, neighbors, co-workers, even family sometimes so that death, when it arrives, is a shock to everyone left behind.
Certainly, everyone who finds him/herself in my position has the right to play it out any way they want. But I think keeping it secret does a disservice to the person, to the people who know and care about him or her and to the culture at large.
It makes the great final act of life too much a mystery and more frightening than it needs to be.
Did you know that only about 20 percent of deaths occur at home? That wasn't always so. Until 100 years ago, give or take, most people died in their own bed surrounded by family and loved ones. When the dying was extended, everyone, including the children, were involved in the caregiving.
When I was kid, about half my friends had one or two grandparents living with them. Some were healthy, some were not and it was not uncommon for a friend to tell me that she couldn't go bike-riding that morning because she was taking care of Gran while her mom was shopping.
An ailing grandparent was such a commonplace that we kids accepted it and, when it sometimes happened, the grandparent's death was – well, part of life which, I believe, is as it should be.
We are born, we live, we die. But we too often omit the third act from view.
It is the dying, rather than death itself, I am concerned with, and I become more convinced every day now, as I live with this death sentence, that it is a gift.
A gift of time that allows me to say the things I always ought to have done but too often have not. Of time to remember. Time to wonder at the great unknown. And time to talk. Oh god, yes. To talk and and talk and talk with those who will do so with me, about everything under the sun.
We are doing that here in these pages and your comments, thoughts and stories are enriching my final days.
Even though I have met only a few of you in person, we've been friends of a certain kind for a long time. Imagine how you would feel if, when the time comes, someone posted a note saying I died yesterday of cancer, and you had known nothing about it until then.
Would you feel betrayed? I think I would. Would you wonder why the disease had been kept a secret? I would. And I think I would feel cheated to be able to leave only a note of condolence rather than having had this wonderful conversation we are carrying on now.
No one wants to die but I cannot see the point in pretending my death is not visible on the horizon. In accepting that, I can surrender to life in full, keep moving forward and be as much in the here and now as humanly possible.
Dying is as much a part of living as birth. We should treat it with as much significance and honor it during every last day we have.