Last week at the Raleigh Death Café a participant’s question about what constitutes a good death prompted much discussion.
As I listened to the interesting conversation I flashed back almost 17 years to Leah’s hospital room.
I remembered holding on to every thread of hope as we conferred with her doctors.
I remembered Dan helping the scared sparrow fly free in the parking garage stairway.
I remembered holding Leah’s hand and stroking her cheek, telling her that she too could fly free if that is what she needed to do.
I remembered inviting her friends and our friends, who had been camped out in the waiting room with us for five days, to say good-bye to her when we knew she would not be returning to us physically.
All of these memories were in my head, swirling around; I brought them to my heart.
In that moment, sitting in the midst of a discussion about what constitutes a good death, I knew.
Leah’s death was a good death.
My head wanted to slice and dice the discussion and make an argument against the possibility of a good death, but my heart knew in an instant. I took a deep breath and let the knowledge of Leah’s death as a good death take up some space. I spoke it out loud, in that moment, without thinking about it. It felt like a new level of peace. I let the tears come and felt myself witnessed in this new awareness. The moment passed and the discussion moved on.
As I reflected on this moment in the days since it happened I realized that I was not capable of considering that hers was a good death at the time of her death. I was many chapters of my story away from even knowing the concept of a good death as it referred to my daughter. Nothing about her death was good, at least at the time. As I began my grief journey I excavated the gifts of that journey and yet, I still had not contemplated a good death.
If you were to ask me what a good death is, I’m not sure I could give you a finite answer. Before that discussion last week, it never even occurred to me to consider a good death for anyone I knew.
I’d like to think that it came into my consciousness at precisely the right time.
If I did come across the concept of a good death earlier, maybe I wasn’t able to really hear it.
If a good death feels like an unspeakable concept for you, trust where you are right now. If it intrigues you, bring your feelings to your heart and allow them to rest there. All of our perceptions about what death is and isn’t hold a mystery that cannot be understood by all of the analysis of our heads.