What books or sources of inspiration will we reach for when we know we will die soon?
And do we seek these resources to prepare ourselves for death, as the ancient Egyptians did with the “Book of the Dead”? Or, do we want to distract ourselves from it — to break from the crisis of the present?
A young patient dying of leukemia carried “Don Quixote” with her to radiation treatments imagining she was confronting one adventure after another with artful poise and enthusiasm.
Another patient blitzed through “Persepolis” in her hospital bed. The main message of the book: education is essential for a person to have true freedom. The book’s backdrop was war torn Iran and banned in Iran. Maybe she was looking for the freedom of death with the stark knowledge that it was surrounding her.
Sigmund Freud, dying of mouth cancer, read Balzac’s “The Wild Ass’s Skin,” days before he died, refusing all painkillers except aspirin to maintain his lucidity to complete the novel.
I am not sure if we ever truly achieve inspiration regarding death but maybe through literature and the arts we can weaken its sting.
Computer scientist Randy Pausch’s gave a talk at Carnegie Mellon a month after receiving a terminal diagnosis. Check it out: “The Last Lecture.”
Explaining why he decided to deliver a lecture that required extensive preparation instead of spending every one of his last moments with his children, Pausch later wrote: “If I were a painter, I would have painted for them. If I were a musician, I would have composed music. But I am a lecturer. So I lectured.” So he lectured, not knowing what the morning would bring.
One of my favorite books is “The End of Your Life Book Club,” by Will Schwalbe. This is an endearing story of mother and son’s end of life journey as they spent countless hours in treatment and waiting rooms reading books together. Through their ongoing reading they were reminded how books can be comforting and helpful to express fears and love during a time of uncertainty. Literature brought them comfort and peace.
What books or sources of inspiration will you reach for when you know you will die soon?