Dilemma of Dying

Food for Thought

My father is still with us, yet the shadow of inevitability looms. He has expressed no desire for life support, but defining its boundaries is complex. A lung infection, one of his many complications, exemplifies this. Weakened swallowing reflexes mean food particles can slip into his lungs, causing infection. Phlegm accumulates in his respiratory system, threatening suffocation without the intervention of a tube to clear his airways. This act, while life-prolonging, blurs the lines between natural and artificial life extension. He might recover and live another year, as the doctor suggests, yet without this intervention, he would have already passed away.

His current state is a stark contrast to the man he once was. A bag of poo attached to his belly. Scars and bruises everywhere, unable to heal. His skin appears draped over his bones. Yet, amidst this, there’s an unexpected tranquility in his demeanor. One might anticipate frustration, fear, or despair, but there’s none.

I asked him, “Is your mind prepared to die?” His nod was as casual as if confirming his name. Internally, I wished for a more dignified exit for him, perhaps through an overdose of morphine, allowing him to depart amidst loved ones rather than alone at night. The concept of “natural” death seems more about legalities than his best interests.

Yet, there is beauty in his peace. The dissolution of his ego has brought an unexpected harmony between his mind and body, unfettered by concerns for dignity or appearances.

Because of the phlegm, he can barely talk. A few days ago, he was trying hard to tell me something. He kept repeating over and over, yet I couldn’t make out what he was saying. It was taking all the energy he could summon. My eyes welled up with tears, only to discover he was inquiring about my cellphone network in Japan—a longstanding family joke about his obsession with phone contracts. The prospect of dying doesn’t seem to diminish it. When I’m about to die, I could only hope that my mind would be preoccupied with a wireless network.