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A Revolution in Dying

part 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

Body, Mind, Spirit

Florence Wald has her own reservations about the bust of Saunders on aesthetic grounds. More than forty years after they met at Yale, Wald and Saunders remain close friends. On a visit to St. Christopher's from her home in Connecticut, Wald gives the bust a once-over and offers a blunt assessment to Saunders. "Too severe."

"Well, it's got a hint of a smile," Saunders says, before conceding, "I wouldn't want to cross her, I must say."

The two sit for an interview - two white-haired octogenarians in suits and glasses and sensible shoes.

"I like this blue, it's so nice on you," Wald says of Saunders's suit.

"Got it in a sale, 75-percent off," Saunders confides.

Both women are still active - Saunders at St. Christopher's, Wald promoting hospice care in prisons. But they talk easily about being near the end of their own lives.

"Of course, I always note that there are always going to be things that I haven't finished yet before I die," Wald says.

"Yes," says Saunders, deadpan, "I'd love to tidy my desk."

"Yes, me too," Wald laughs. "We won't."

"No."

The three hospice pioneers whose stories we've told here - Saunders, Wald, and Elisabeth Kübler-Ross - all say they have no fear of dying having seen much of it.

The three have widely differing spiritual views: Saunders, the devout Christian, Wald, an agnostic Jew, and Kübler-Ross, a believer in New Age spirit guides. Nonetheless, they all agreed from the start. Psychological and spiritual questions are so important at the end of life that they should be part of hospice care.

"One of the people who's had an enormous impression on me, and through me on the hospice movement as a whole," says Saunders, "is Victor Frankl, the Jew who wrote Man's Search for Meaning when he came out of the concentration camps. One of the things he firmly says, 'We cannot give to somebody else a sense of meaning for their lives. All we can do is to help them find it for themselves.'"

Saunders is quick to add that some hospice patients die without tying up their lives neatly, leaving behind regrets and tattered relationships.

Still, Wald uses a striking phrase, one that sounds at first like a contradiction.

"What I have found is that people can die in good health."

That is, with a sense of fulfillment, with "the satisfaction of 'I have a good life.' It doesn't always happen. Sometimes people don't have time or opportunity to go through that kind of thing. But it is possible to do and that's one of the very exciting challenges that you have as a caregiver."


Back to - The Hospice Experiment