Near the end of his wonderful book, Being Mortal, author and physician Atul Gawande writes, “our most cruel failure in how we treat the sick and the aged is the failure to recognize that they have priorities beyond merely being safe and living longer; that the chance to shape one’s story is essential to sustaining meaning in life…Our ultimate goal, after all, is not a good death but a good life to the very end.” In the Epilogue, he writes that our job in medicine is “to enable well-being. And well-being is about the reasons one wishes to be alive.”
In about one month, my wife, her brother and her sister, and their families will gather in their parents’ hometown of West Terre Haute, Indiana to hold a walk in honor of their mother, Emily Herrington, who was killed in a car crash last October. Emily was a remarkable woman who loved to walk and loved to serve her community through various agencies to which she donated her time and talent. After the death of her husband in 2003, she steadfastly refused her children’s offers to come and live with them, and remained in her home, in her town, where her friends lived and where she could be of service. Despite advancing age that slowed her down, she continued to live independently until the tragic crash that ended her life at age 88.
Emily did not have a good death; no one would wish a traumatic death upon anyone, and yet she lived a good life right up until the end, offering a smile and encouragement to everyone, visiting with her children, and continuing the community service that meant so much to her. So, when we gather on the Wabashiki Trail in late April, recreating one of her favorite walks and raising money for a Community Foundation fund that will continue to help the place where she and her husband lived, raised a family, gave back more than they got, and now will rest for eternity, I will be wearing a big smile along with my “Emily’s Walk” t-shirt, remembering a life filled with well-being, “a good life to the very end.”