The Good Death

Scott and Helen Nearing, authors of a series of Good Life books that relate their experiences in sustainable living on homesteads in Vermont and, later, Maine, offer a humbling counterpoint to the notions of death with dignity espoused by high-profile Christian conservatives these days. Two weeks past his 100th birthday in 1983, Scott Nearing died a peaceful death of his choosing, as Helen (who lived another 12 years) recounted:
A month or two before he died he was sitting at table with us at a meal. Watching us eat he said, "I think I won't eat anymore."

"Alright," said I. "I understand. I think I would do that too. Animals know when to stop. They go off in a corner and leave off food."

So I put Scott on juices: carrot juice, apple juice, banana juice, pineapple, grape - any kind. I kept him full of liquids as often as he was thirsty. He got weaker, of course, and he was as gaunt and thin as Gandhi.

Came a day he said, "I think I'll go on water. Nothing more." From then on, for about ten days, he only had water. He was bed-ridden and had little strength but spoke with me daily. In the morning of August 24, 1983, two weeks after his 100th birthday, when it seemed he was slipping away, I sat beside him on his bed.

We were quiet together; no interruptions, no doctors or hospitals. I said "It's alright, Scott. Go right along. You've lived a good life and are finished with things here. Go on and up - up into the light. We love you and let you go. It's alright."

In a soft voice, with no quiver or pain or disturbance, he said "All...right," and breathed slower and slower and slower till there was no movement anymore and he was gone out of his body as easily as a leaf drops from the tree in autumn, slowly twisting and falling to the ground.

So he returned to his Maker after a long life, well-lived and devoted to the general welfare. He was principled and dedicated all through. He lived at peace with himself and the world because he was in tune: he practiced what he preached. He lived his beliefs. He could die with a good conscience.

As to myself and my old age: I try to follow in his footsteps. It is not so easy homesteading alone, but I carry on. A few more years and I also will experience the great Transition. May I live halfway as good a life and die as good a death.
Read "At the End of the Good Life" here. Hear audio of Helen Nearing here. (Thanks, Mom.)


Anonymous said...

A two month death by starvation doesn't sound so great to me.

Anonymous said...

at age 100....seems any death of my own choosing would sound great to me