And we read together, researching all that we could find about this thing called death. Just as we had researched the subject of giving birth when we planned to produce a family, now we read about dying. Our "head-on" approach left us feeling "in control" and not like helpless victims of a tragedy. We reviewed the evidence for reincarnation, which is a very comforting belief system for me. But to my husband, whose mind was the product of scientific skepticism, the reincarnation theory offered little. However, we had happy hours together in our search for the meaning of death.
Eventually, we became part of a research program on the use of LSD in terminal cancer. This, too, was not only fascinating but also gave him the feeling that his dying body and departing psyche could be of scientific use to the living.
During those days of anticipatory preparation, he had expressed the desire that when his body could no longer do any of the things he asked of it, nor could give him any more pleasure, he wanted to leave it voluntarily and in total control of its passing. I agreed with him. Though we failed in being able to take death entirely into our own control, we were lucky to find a medical facility that was willing to shelter us both, placing my bed next to his. And we found a good doctor who not only agreed that no extravagant steps would be taken to prolong clinical life, but that my husband would be totally protected from the consciousness of pain. These promises he was able to keep.
I wonder if we shouldn't think of death and plan for it as we now think of birth. There was a time when birth, too, was considered a matter of turmoil and pain. And, likewise, death was an occasion for grief and anguish. Today there are those who have changed the circumstances of birth so that it has become a time of rejoicing and of the bonding in love of family members. Likewise, there are those who are creating environments for dying that yield satisfaction.
The hospice movement, along with the extraordinary tales coming from those who have survived the experience of physical death, are giving us new insights relative to death and dying. None of these are unpleasant. Might death itself, then, be an adventure in pleasure if we could divest ourselves of our fear and manage it without pain?
About the author: Dr. Hamilton, a retired psychologist and sex therapist, is the author of five books and a recipient of the American Library Association award. Her television appearances include "The Phil Donahue Show," "The Merv Griffin Show," and "The Tonight Show."