end of life

Farewell, Oliver Sacks ⇒

Oliver Sacks, famous writer and neurologist, has died. From his website:

Oliver Sacks died early this morning at his home in Greenwich Village, surrounded by his close friends and family. He was 82. He spent his final days doing what he loved—playing the piano, writing to friends, swimming, enjoying smoked salmon, and completing several articles. His final thoughts were of gratitude for a life well lived and the privilege of working with his patients at various hospitals and residences including the Little Sisters of the Poor in the Bronx and in Queens, New York.

It's interesting to read his thoughts on life and death, as well as cancer. Cancer has had a profound impact on my family this year. Knowing that death is approaching is a strange feeling, especially for someone you love. The biggest challenge, I think, is keeping perspective, which Oliver Sacks always did well. From his New York Times op-ed in February 2015, when he revealed his terminal cancer diagnosis:

I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written. I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers.

Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.

That fear can be both for the person with cancer and for their loved ones. These words are helpful even for those who survive their loved one, and I hold them close to me always.

Rest in peace, Oliver Sacks. Thank you, for everything.

★ On Not Expecting the Unexpected

12:00pm. Lunch is over, and the rest of the day looms ahead. It's a busy day. Hours have passed quickly so far. New duties present themselves. New challenges. New hurdles. It feels good. 1:00pm. Writing. So much to say. Find some words. Put them together. Attempt to make sense of them. Move along.

1:15pm. The fun part of the day. Always makes you smile. Never fails. But this time. Eyes are closed. Breathing is labored. It's the end of the line. You knew it was coming. You just didn't know that it would pack such a hard punch when it did.

11:30pm. Still reeling. You realize something. One hour per day. Times five days per week. Times four weeks. Twenty precious hours. You got to know someone in their darkest moments. You found light in those moments. You were a part of something. You will never be the same.

11:35pm. There's more to say. Sometimes you do things. And you focus on those things. And you forget that in very small ways, unexpected ways, you make a difference. And knowing that is incredibly touching. And if you're lucky, it makes you cry.

I've never felt so honored, and yet so profoundly sad, in all my life.