Making Peace with Life Through Death, Part 2: Processing

Republished from Death with Dignity National Center.

Maine resident Karen Wentworth is the second patient to access the Maine Death with Dignity Act, which went into effect in September 2019. In the second installment of this 3-part series, Karen reads from an essay she wrote after she obtained the death-hastening medication and began her preparation for death.

*

 

Being terminal brings a different kind of anxiety. I’m done with desperate prayers, though I still clock symptoms by the hour. Terminal cancer anxiety is fear without hope for a future. I say I’m ready to die and not afraid, but if that’s true why does my heart bang in my chest somedays? Why do I cry during support group check-ins? Why do tears come at night when I think of leaving Alison and Charlie? The answer is grief.

Leaving what I love and losing what is familiar gets harder with time, not easier. My six-month prognosis inspires an urgent love and gratitude for life. Small things – handmade soap, crows, snow, caramel sauce – become over-sized gifts. Relationships fill my heart to bursting. As my appreciation for life and loved ones deepens, I must practice letting go – leaving.  

Karen Wentworth and Charlie Thieme in June 2018.

 

In the following audio clip, Charlie Thieme shares his reflections on meeting Karen, living together, and watching her prepare for her death.

 

A collage by Karen Wentworth

 

 

I like control, meaning gallons of effort went into arranging my life into orderly, predictable days. Now I’m learning its opposite – letting go. I’m a planner who spent a lot of time projecting into the future. Now I’m learning to be in the present. Because I’m a doer, prodigious amounts of energy went into productivity. Now I’m learning to be, not do. 

Most mornings I awake with a quiet anticipatory restlessness. It’s an uncomfortable feeling, and I wish it away. There are times when it recedes into the background, but usually we spend the day together. 

Just when I believe everything is handled, fear washes over me, humbling me with its reminder of my roots and humanness.   

*

Click here to read Part 3. To read Part 1, click here.