The work that I'm doing, is organic, starting with the
TEDx talk I gave seven months after he died. The work
is a way for me to stay connected to Alan, but not Alan
the body. It's Alan the energy.
Most people do not consider that they have a choice
regarding many areas of their life. Certainly not in
relation to death. I’ve had my audiences break down
in tears. A woman approached me after I spoke and
said, “There’s a lot of dementia in my family. I have
been terrified that I will go mad and be out of control.
I never knew there was anything I could do about it.
Now I know I have a choice.”
I'm an advocate for living into our dying, being aware
of what is happening to us when it's happening and
not denying it. That's part of conscious dying. We don't
have conscious dying without conscious living. They're
one and the same.
Let's educate ourselves about all of our choices. There's
a doctor who's advocating going into high schools
to educate students about death and dying. I’m for
it. I hope I do some of that with young people. The
younger people, the people in their twenties I know,
get it. They totally get it.
I’m part of a growing death positive movement.
There's a group of us who are saying, "Come on now,
let's stop this nonsense. Let's stop this stupidity of
going on, another cure, another medication, another
day in the hospital, another invasive surgery at the
end of life. Let's stop it." But to stop it,everyone,
including doctors, have to acknowledge that
they're going to die. That’s the core of it. The lack of
acknowledgment that we are mortal beings.
I hope I don't have to VSED. I want to die the way
my mother died. She just got old. Her heart began
to wear out.
The night before she began her departure I was
sitting on the edge of my mom's bed and kissing
her good night. She looked like an angel. There was
a light that I’ve never seen come out of someone's
body before. She was glowing and smiling from ear
to ear. And she looked at me and said, "You know I'm
never going to die."
She caught me off guard. I said, "Mom, you
mean you're never going to die?” She broke
into hysterical laughter and said, "Well certainly
not tonight.” The next morning she was in a mild
coma. During the next four days, I called the whole
family together. She took her last breath with all of
us around her bed.
My work is about preparing to die well. I'm preparing
to die. I think about it every day, consciously and
unconsciously. I'm okay, I'm really okay if I die
tomorrow. And at the same time, I'd really love to
become this really old, ripe, wise woman.
PHYLLIS SHACTER is an advocate in end-of-life choices, especially
the little-known option of Voluntarily Stopping Eating and Drinking (VSED)
for people with degenerative disease. She is the author of Choosing to Die, a
memoir and thorough guidebook about her husband’s gentle, elective
death from VSED after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Her website is the
authoritative site on VSED, and features her TEDx Talk, “Not Here By Choice.”
Phyllis frequently speaks at conferences, including the Sea