Selections from Dying, A Book of Comfort, plus extra material
"I don't think people are afraid of death. What they are afraid of is the incompleteness of their life."
—A 30-year-old man dying of leukemia, in Death and the Creative Life by Lisl Goodman
"For two years . . . I was just as crazy as you can be and still be at large. I didn't have any really normal minutes during those two years. It wasn't just grief. It was total confusion. I was nutty, and that's the truth. How did I come out of it? I don't know, because I didn't know when I was in it that I was in it."
— Helen Hayes, the actress, on the death of her husband Charles MacArthur
"The most I ever did for you, was to outlive you,
But that is much.
—Edna St. Vincent Millay
Leonard Matlovich, an Air Force Tech Sergeant who did three tours in Vietnam, later died of AIDS. Anger gives power to the epitaph on his gravestone in Congressional Cemetery, in Washington, D.C.:
When I was in the military
They gave me a medal for killing two men
And a discharge for loving one.
—A gay Vietnam veteran
We sometimes congratulate ourselves at the moment of waking from a troubled dream; it may be so the moment after death.
— Nathaniel Hawthorne
And time remembered is grief forgotten,
And frosts are slain and flowers begotten,
And in green underwood and cover
Blossom by blossom the spring begins.
—Algernon Charles Swinburne
Grief can be the garden of compassion.
Thoughts on Life and Death
If I Had My Life To Live Over
I'd dare to make more mistakes next time. I'd relax.
I would limber up. I would be sillier than I have been this trip. I would take fewer things seriously. I would take more chances. I would take more trips. I would climb more mountains and swim more rivers.
I would eat more ice cream and less beans.
I would perhaps have more actual troubles, but I'd have fewer imaginary ones.
You see, I am one of those people who live sensibly and sanely hour after hour, day after day. Oh, I've had my moments and if I had it to do over again, I'd have more of them. In fact, I'd try to have nothing else. Just moments. One after another, instead
]of living so many years ahead of each day. I've been one of those people who never go anywhere without a thermometer, a hot water bottle, a raincoat and a parachute. If I had it to do over again, I would travel lighter than I have.
If I had my life to live over, I would start barefoot earlier in the spring and stay that way later in the fall. I would go to more dances. I would ride more merry-go-rounds. I would pick more daisies.
—attributed to Nadine Stair, an 85-year-old Kentucky woman
If I'd known how long I was going to live, I would have taken better care of myself.
—Attributed to Eubie Blake
It's nice to give people a sense of the life of the person being remembered. When my mother died, after a long and difficult illness, at a service we conducted ourselves we emphasized her life story (see Eulogy), so all the young people who came to say goodbye would have a sense of her life and times, and what she was like when she was young and vibrant.
Here's a poem written by a Canadian physician in Flanders, Belgium, after he had buried a friend in a makeshift grave. It was not included in the anthology but speaks to the sacrifices made by the soldiers who fight our wars:
In Flanders Fields
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
John McCrae, 1915