10 Components of a Good Death
A renowned scientist and prolific author, Dr. Edwin Shneidman, believed life is enriched by the contemplation of death and dying. He later wrote a paper titled “Criteria for a Good Death.” Here he lists ten components of what he called a ‘good death’:
- Natural – does not occur by accident, suicide, or homicide.
- Mature – occurs after age 70, still cognitively sharp but old enough to have experienced and savored life.
- Expected – is neither sudden nor unexpected; having some decent warning.
- Honorable – is filled with honorifics and not dwelling on past failures.
- Prepared – a living trust and other arrangements were made for the necessary legalities after death.
- Accepted – you are “willing the obligatory” by gracefully accepting the inevitable.
- Civilized – you have loved ones present and are surrounded by whatever brings you joy (i.e., music, flowers, photos).
- Generative – you have passed down wisdom to younger generations by sharing history, memories, etc.
- Rueful – you cherish the emotional state: a bittersweet mixture of sadness, yearning, nostalgia, appreciation, thoughtfulness, and even regret.
- Peaceable – you are surrounded by amicability, love, and are without pain.
Many of the above criteria we cannot control, but there are those we can, merely by the way we live our lives. At the end of the paper, Dr. Shneidman wrote,
“I end with a sweeping question: Is it possible to formulate a Golden Rule for a good death, a maxim that has the survivors in mind? I would offer, as a beginning, the following Golden Rule for the dying scene: Do unto others as little as possible. By which I mean that the dying person consciously tries to arrange that his or her death – given the inescapable sadness of the loss-to-be – be as little pain as humanly possible to the survivors. Along with this Golden Rule for dying, there is the copper-plated injunction: Die in a manner so that the reviews of your death speak to your better self (as a courtier distinguished by grace) rather than as a plebeian marked by coarseness and complaint. Have your dying be a courtly death, among the best things that you ever did. It is your last chance to get your neuroses under partial control.”
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