Art of Dying Volume II | Page 86

PHYLLIS SHACTER 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