Making Peace with Life Through Death, Part 3: Proceeding

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 final 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.

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Making peace with life means learning to accept what is uncomfortable as the fabric of me. When I start with self-acceptance, it opens space for joy and gratitude. Saying, “Good morning, Karen. How are we today?” helps me settle into the day’s work of finding some enjoyment. I smile at Charlie as he wakes up and enters the living room smoothing his morning hair with eyes half-open. Coffee, collage, oatmeal. Answer emails. Scan Facebook. Journal. Read a book. Draw a picture. Check in with family and friends. Daily life is rich with routines and generous with activity. 

Regrets rise with regularity. A life review reveals mistakes around who to love, how to love, parenting, career choices, and finances. Recognizing, to the best of my ability, how I failed others demands vulnerability and humility. Richard Rohr writes that wisdom is conscious introspection done with humility. Perhaps, I am wiser now.

(Above: A collage by Karen Wentworth)

 

In a long-ago high school literature class, we were directed to examine our identity by asking “Who am I?” I resonated deeply with the question but at fifteen-years-old had no ready answer. Five decades later, I recognize my identity as comprised of the many masks I donned for image, acceptance, and protection. Releasing those masks is particularly valuable as I near death. At the end, I’ll be stripped down to my essence, to my True Self – the core I was born with and will die with. 

On my altar the feathers, rocks, water and candles representing the elements surround the little fabric bag holding my destiny for dying. I stare at the small womb-like boats silently floating across curling blue waves and pray to leave just as quietly. Meditating on the elements, I sit very still listening for a truth to hold. The respite for suffering from despair, fear and grief is tender love, compassion, and vulnerability. The cure is death. We all suffer, and we are all released from suffering. With faith and trust, I am content to die. My life is good, and my purpose of usefulness is fulfilled. I will pass in the warm comfort of compassion with peace and love in my heart.

Karen Wentworth’s altar. Her medications, including one obtained under Maine’s Death with Dignity Act, are in the blue-patterned cloth bag.

To read Part 1 of Karen’s story, click here. You can find Part 2 here. 

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In the Media:

Karen spoke about her decision to access Maine’s death with dignity law on the July 8, 2020 episode of the “Making the Call” podcast. Hosted by Drs. Ezekiel Emanuel and Jonathan Moreno, the episode also featured a conversation with Death with Dignity Executive Director Peg Sandeen exploring the ethics of medical aid in dying. Listen to the episode here.