The Art of Living Well and Dying with Dignity: Reflections on Aging, Death and Finding Meaning

Milan Kundera once said:

“It’s a world where leaving is popular, but none of us are good at saying goodbye.”

We seem to have never learned how to say goodbye.

Ye Tan, a famous financial writer, said with emotion after suffering from advanced breast cancer:

Although we know that everyone has an end point, everyone does not want to see the end point. Once they see it, they will be afraid. This is a human instinct.

We always say that life is impermanent. In fact, in our daily life, we all have the opportunity to make up the “final chapter of life” lesson: about aging, about death.

The book “The Best Farewell” transforms many of our anxieties into new cognitions. Not only the elderly, people of any age can benefit from it.

The author of this book is a medical reform consultant for the US government and a professor of surgery, Ge Wende. He uses a large number of cases and materials to bring us a new concept:

It is unscientific to medicalize old age, infirmity, and death.

Accepting aging is a compulsory course in life

No matter how much medical science advances, it can’t get rid of one ending: it can’t finally defeat the god of death.

Step by step towards the aging plank road, and finally slide into the abyss, no one can stay out of it. Accepting aging is a mental journey we must go through.

It is not easy for ordinary people; it is also not easy for doctors.

Gerontologist Felix has long observed from his patients how difficult it is to adapt to the changes brought about by age.

He thought that when his own aging came, he could deal with it calmly, but the reality was more difficult than imagined.

Felix undergoes a series of changes:

He had a stroke in his 60s and suffered a cardiac arrest at the age of 79, but fortunately he escaped danger. He didn’t retire until he was 82, and the reason he stopped working was because his wife, Bella, needed to be taken care of.

Bella became blind due to illness, accompanied by severe memory loss. Felix cooks for Bella, takes her for walks and sees her doctor, saying: “Now, she’s my goal.”

While taking care of his wife, Felix objectively recorded the changes in his body: dry skin, degraded sense of smell, poor night vision, easy fatigue, and teeth loss.

But he took all the measures he could take, such as riding an exercise bike 3 times a week, seeing the dentist twice a year, etc., to make the aging curve as flat as possible instead of “swift down”.

He knew that if he couldn’t be honest about his limitations, he couldn’t help his wife.

Incorporating routine checkups into your life, planning for the future, and making the necessary changes to slow the decline in physical function will lead to a better quality of life in old age.

It is difficult to adapt to change, but it is more necessary to learn to accept reality.

Wang Meng once said: “Aging is certain, it’s not up to me to decide, when to age, I also don’t listen to anyone’s instructions: how happy this is, I will age next year, how peaceful it is, and I am still alive today.”

There is no need to be afraid of aging. What we have to learn is to prepare conceptually and learn to adapt in practice.

Stay Healthy and Nourish Your Mind

Taking care of his wife as a goal becomes Felix’s source of self-worth.

This is true of every life, and the requirements for life are not only simplified to health and safety, but also spiritual support.

Every elderly person needs adequate psychological relief and spiritual comfort, not just life care.

Many elderly people are afraid of going to nursing homes. What they fear is not the lack of companionship or poor care we imagine, but the “three major plagues” in nursing homes: burnout, loneliness, and helplessness.

Regardless of the hospital, most nursing homes, or even children, there are few positive thoughts and measures on this:

How do we make life worth living when we are old and vulnerable?

In the book “The Best Farewell”, Dr. Thomas is very creative:

He brought 2 dogs, 4 cats, and 100 birds to the Chase Nursing Home, and the elderly living there shared the task of caring for the animals.

The effect soon appeared, and the “residents” of the nursing home woke up, and changed from the lifelessness of the past: people who hardly spoke began to communicate.

People who used to be withdrawn and did not move around began to visit the nurse’s station: “I will take the dog out for a walk”;

All the birds were adopted and given nice names, and people’s eyes were brightened again.

Under the same conditions, the death rate in nursing homes fell by 15 percent because “the fundamental need for a reason to live” changed and a positive sense of life was regained.

In this way, a decision to feed pets brought vitality to the nursing home.

This initiative is not only an inspiration to pension institutions, but also an inspiration to every family and every child.

Writer Liu Yong said:

“I always praise my 90-year-old mother for the aroma of the coffee and ask her to do it. In fact, I just hope that she will move more, and let her have a sense of accomplishment and feel that she is useful.”

Medical progress has prolonged the length of our lives, but only by finding the value of living can we expand the depth and breadth of our lives.

When people approach dusk, what they need is not only medicine, but also the secret of how to maintain the quality of life.

Respect life, face death with dignity

Not long ago, a video of the medical documentary “Human World” suddenly became a hot search.

“This is the greatest unfilial piety: a 76-year-old man has been in the intensive care unit for 4 years”:

Mr. Fan was admitted to Shanghai Ruijin Hospital due to cerebral infarction. After the craniotomy, he needed to rely on machinery for 24 hours to maintain his life. His family put him in the ICU for four years and spent a huge amount of treatment fees. Can’t go.”

In this way, a person becomes an object, with tubes inserted all over his body, just to “live”.

Now that the old man has passed away, the “ICU incident” has gone out of the circle, and it has hit our long-standing pain:

How do people who are gradually aging live to the end independently, happily, and with dignity?

Man’s greatest fear is the fear of the unknown. We often say “five blessings come to the door”, and the last blessing is “good death”.

A good death means that there is no misfortune, no worries and troubles, and you leave peacefully and freely.

“Our ultimate goal is not to die well, but to live well until we die.”

In the book “The Best Farewell”, there is a private piano teacher, Pegg, who suffers from malignant sarcoma, and after undergoing hellish radiation and chemotherapy, Pegg resumes teaching.

A year and a half later, the tumor recurred and she underwent chemotherapy again. But she still insists on teaching, although she often adjusts the curriculum to cooperate with the treatment.

Soon, Pegg’s condition deteriorated and he became incontinent and had to be admitted to the hospital.

She knew her time was numbered, and she had a host of fears: the fear of losing more control of her body and being humiliated, the fear of not being able to leave the hospital, lying in the ICU covered in intubation…

But fortunately, she can decide for herself.

Pegg chose the “hospice service”. She returned home, and with the help of the service staff, she set up a movable bed, gave analgesic injections and took medicine every 2 hours.

More importantly, she knew how she would spend the rest of her time: She would continue teaching. She did, and came alive.

She survived another 6 weeks, 4 of which she taught, and the last 2 weeks, the students were at her home, and she gave them two concerts, to which she happily said goodbye.

She walked very calmly.

Going through the last life like Pegg is a challenge to concepts, not just the economic foundation and technical cooperation.

Easier said than done, how to settle down and leave in the way you like?

Life is limited, and medicine is not unlimited. Whether you want to persist at all costs or let go at the right time, as long as you can truly respect your wishes, you deserve to be appreciated, understood, and supported.

Throughout the journey of life, we are all ignorant children who need to keep learning and thinking.

The matter of life and death is so important that we cannot afford to be careless. Whether it’s for yourself or your loved ones, if you cultivate the fear of death into a natural acceptance of death, you will be successful.

Death is a farewell: for the living, it is farewell to loved ones, and for the dead, it is farewell to the world.

Matt once said:

“We dare not talk about death, because we cannot escape the shackles left by our ancestors’ cultural genes.

But we need to think about life and death, and the result of thinking is not important, because thinking itself is the greatest value. ”

We can’t prevent the arrival of old age, what we can do is to prepare psychologically and gain knowledge so that we can make more informed decisions and make ourselves and our loved ones more comfortable and peaceful.

Nothing can change the fact of death, what can change is how we think about death.

Those who are about to enter old age should clarify their needs and deal with them in advance to avoid confusion;

For the sake of children and family members, respect the wishes of relatives, rather than “overstepping the boundaries”;

Practitioners in medical institutions slowly ferry patients, lighting up a lamp of humanity.

Thinking about the way home is not to make people decadent, but to make people sober;

Facing the end is not to make people despair, but to rekindle hope.

What this book brings to us is not only heavy thinking, but also enthusiasm for life.

There is a saying in the “Tibetan Book of Living and Dying”: “There is no kind of charity that can be greater than helping a person die well.”

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