How much suffering would I endure?

… my younger brother sensed that our father was not long for this world. He noted my father’s health problems… and the sadness in my father’s eyes. He noted my father’s fatalistic daily behaviors and approach to life…

-Me, ‘The Skeptic’s Kaddish’ #6, Sept. 14, 2018

I wrote the above in one of my earliest posts following my Papa’s death; and I have continued to reflect upon it, perhaps more than any other aspect of the tragic event.

As I’ve written before, one of the reasons that Papa’s death continues to be so difficult for me to wrap my mind and heart around (more than three years later) is that it was so sudden and unexpected. He died of pneumonia at the age of 70, within hours of Mama bringing him to the hospital.

We knew that Papa had an underlying health complication – early stage blood cancer. He had been living with this condition for a few years, without receiving any treatment for it because his doctor recommended against starting chemotherapy at such an early stage… He believed it would have caused more damage to Papa’s health than the cancer itself. The doctor said that Papa almost certainly would not die of that blood cancer. He said that it was treatable.

Almost three years ago, back when I was blogging regularly about reciting the Mourner’s Kaddish for my father, I put together a list of coincidences surrounding Papa’s death. However, there was one coincidence that I knowingly omitted because it was too painful to write about. You see, after several years of semi-annual visits to his doctor, Papa had finally been scheduled to start receiving chemotherapy… Then, unexpectedly, he died of pneumonia days before his first treatment.

Papa had intended to go through with chemotherapy, but I believe that his self-image remained that of the hearty, athletic man he had been in his younger years… He had always thought of himself as the strong one; and if there’s one thing I am certain of, it is that Papa did not want to live in a weakened, dependent state.

Babushka’s determination to live was tremendous, particularly given her frailty and failing constitution. Last summer, after being intubated in the hospital… my grandmother mustered the will to breathe independently. The hospital staff were utterly flabbergasted…

-Me, ‘The Skeptic’s Kaddish’ #8, Sept. 14, 2018

By coincidence, my Babushka (Mama’s mother) died a few months later. In contrast to Papa’s death, her passing was hardly unexpected because of her advanced age and years-long physical deterioration.

By the time Babushka died, she had been blind for several years (due to diabetes) and spent almost all of her days sitting on or lying on her couch, getting up only to eat, go to bed, etc. She was entirely dependent upon her live-in caretaker and had few daily pleasures, other than speaking by phone with family members who would call to buoy her spirits.

Nevertheless, and somewhat amazingly to me, Babushka clearly wanted to live for as long as possible. Despite her deep despondency at the drastically reduced quality of her daily life, she continued to relish her every breath of every day.

Some people will do anything to stay alive. They are willing to physically and psychologically suffer more than I am capable of imagining to stave off their deaths. I have known such people, including some dear relatives of mine.

Other people, also including some friends and relatives of mine, observe the suffering of their loved ones who are battling against terrible diseases and say to themselves and others: “I would rather die than go through that. A life of such suffering is not worth it.”

And you know what? I don’t think either of these perspectives is more moral, more righteous, more correct, or more… anything.

I cannot possibly know how I would feel if I were facing a cancer diagnosis, but, honestly, I’m inclined to think that I would be one to prefer minimizing my suffering. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t go through all of my prescribed medical treatments (I’m sure I would)… But I’m not so sure my heart would be into the fight. I’m far from certain that I would have the will to stay alive by any and all means necessary.

Papa died very, very quickly and very, very, very unexpectedly. One moment he was alive, and several hours later at the hospital, his heart stopped beating. Despite not wanting to entertain these dark thoughts, I still find myself wondering whether, on some deep, subconscious level, Papa lacked the will to fight.

I struggle with why this should matter to me at all, especially as there’s no way of knowing… And, anyway, knowing myself as I do, who the heck am I to judge?

53 thoughts on “How much suffering would I endure?”

  1. People say (and I hate it) that when it’s your time to go it happens. But whether it comes as a shock, suddenly, unexpectedly, or whether it’s after many years with a stubborn refusal to die, to cling on as long as possible, either time it hurts.
    Losing a loved one guts you, leaves you feeling empty inside.
    I am estranged from my father. And as he gets older I know time is running out to resolve that. If I don’t resolve it, I will be distraught. I will constantly wonder about the things left unsaid.
    Is it up to me to judge my father’s sins? Should I hold him to account? Or leave that to a greater power? I empathize with your difficulty overcoming what you have lost and hope that you find the strength and healing to recover from his loss.
    Shalom my friend.

    1. I want to thank you for this post. It’s made me think about my own relationship with my father. He is now, the same age as yours was upon passing.

      I have a difficult choice to make but reading this gave me some clarity. It genuinely moved me.

      Once again, thank you.

      1. Jack ~ thank you for letting me know that my writing touched you. As you know well, that’s why we writers do what we do… to be able to relate to others. It’s actually humbling to me that you connected with this post as you did… it was difficult for me to write, TBH… it’s even hard for me to read my own words today.


        1. I’m glad you found the strength to write this. It’s easy to write the silly stuff I tend to knock out but it’s the tough heart felt writing (that I occasionally get down to) that has the most impact.

          Much love


    2. Losing a loved one guts you, leaves you feeling empty inside.

      This is exactly true. And… they are put of us too… and then they’re gone, along with those parts of us. Well, that’s how it feels to me.

      I wasn’t estranged from my father, but our relationship was quite strained, and we didn’t communicate much, largely, I suppose, because of my defensiveness… There isn’t anything I can do about that now.


  2. It was not too long ago, that you were celebrating having 1,000 followers, and then 2,000, and now you have almost 3,600. You have had some influence on this many people following you–you blog regularly, you read others’ blogs, and you write, and write well. Often we think that the timing of our death corresponds to what we do and don’t do, “You reap what you sow” attitude of life–but often, there does not seem to be rhyme nor reason to when people die. i.e. my best friend dying at the age of 36 and leaving behind 5 children under the age of 10, and a husband left alone to take care of them. My son, dying at the age of 16, and leaving behind 4 siblings and 2 grieving parents. No rhyme nor reason. Then later, my friend’s husband remarrying. And a year after my son dying, his sister picking up a violin, The second wife teaching my daughter. Helping her heart and her soul. Music is made. Life brings its moments of joy. Somehow a pattern immerges–and what has no pattern, no rhyme or reason–now has a pattern and a purpose. But not necessarily from what we did to exert influence, but what SomeOne else is doing–SomeOne whose intentions are to love and bring good from evil, pattern from chaos, hope from despair. Shalom, my friend.

  3. Great post. I appreciate your sharing such personal, caring and saddening realities of death. I agree also until we are facing that choice we don’t have any idea what we might do. Well said David. Love to you and your sweet family. Peace be with you all. ❤️❤️

  4. My father died unexpectedly. He got up and did his morning exercises, sat down in his chair, and died. At 75, he was still preaching, deer hunting, fishing, and skating with the kids at his church. He “died with his boots on.” I thought that was a good way to go.

    Though I enjoyed spending a lot of time with my mother in her final years, I did not envy her slowly dying from Alzheimer’s at age 90. I am not sure if I would choose to endure that experience.

    I hope Robert and I die together, though it may not happen that way.

    It has been interesting to share your perspectives on losing your father, David. Thank you for sharing. ❤

  5. Thank you for sharing this David. I think when death is unexpected and you’re close to someone, it’s a whole lot harder. There’s no closure and it’s so painful and the mind is automatically more active with judging and evaluating. Death of someone we love is always hard but when you have the ability to say goodbye it is sad but there is completion at least for me. I’m sorry you didn’t have that opportunity David❣️ How’s your aunt doing? 💖

    1. Cindy, I think you’re correct. My aunt -relatively- is okay. She’ll be living with cancer for the rest of her life (stage 4), and obviously she suffers from side effects, etc., but she just had a CT scan this week, which indicated that the cancer cells are not increasing in number… so that means that she can continue her medication and has a new lease on life… until her next CT scan.

  6. So many questions surround my mother’s recent passing. So many “What Ifs?”. I imagine they will haunt me at moments years from now as they do you.
    It’s important (as I’m sure you’ve realized by now) to not dwell on those questions. I firmly believe there are answers we are simply not meant to receive in this life.
    ~ Tina
    (Coincidentally- my mother also died at 70, less than 24 hours after she was admitted to the hospital, very unexpectedly).

    1. It’s important (as I’m sure you’ve realized by now) to not dwell on those questions. I firmly believe there are answers we are simply not meant to receive in this life.

      I’m 100% with you on this, Tina…

      Also, I’m deeply sorry to hear of your mother’s recent, unexpected death. It’s really hard… Have you written about it?


    2. I take my question back – I see that you’ve been writing quite a bit about your mourning experience… I relate to so much of what you’ve written 😦

    1. The end result is definitely the same… A big part of me feels like – why even bother contemplating it? It’s the universal equalizer – I should just accept it as part of life’s fabric.


  7. David, I think all your concerns and your brother’s intuition are valid; humans have so many facets. Personally, my yard stick partly for quality of care, but also for having meaning late in life, has always been, an old woman I got to feed lunch to in a nursing home where I started half-day Sundays working there, age 14 or 15. She was just lying in bed with crisp sheets, talking or mumbling to someone only visible to her if that and opened her mouth when triggered by the spoon. Her room had a peaceful atmosphere (if a bit of an old-woman smell). I think for long, even much more recently when I was supposed to evaluate care homes as a social worker, I was not even aware that was my yard stick, but it certainly remains it for me. There was, there is meaning.

  8. Sorry for your papa’s sudden demise, but what I feel is that it is not in our hands to decide, the reason of demise may be anything including loss of will to live, and that reason comes suddenly in majority of cases. Of course, there are exceptions.

    1. that reason comes suddenly in majority of cases.

      Kaushal, I hadn’t thought of that… you’re saying that most people die of unexpected causes?


      1. Yes, David, excepting those suffering due to old age and chronic diseases. That’s why I have added “exceptions”. This is purely my observation, all may not agree.

  9. Other people’s death is an enigma, isn’t it? Our own, we are better prepared, I believe – we are either ok with going, or not…with other people, we are never sure what we want for them.
    Last month, my father-in-law passed away. It was an interesting event, to say the least. He was in the intensive ward, with pneumonia and such other complications. His vitals would drop, but when his son (my husband) or daughter entered the room, they would perk up again – although he wasn’t even conscious as we know consciousness – somewhere deep inside he could sense them and held on to life. At one point, it got too much for me that I banned my husband and his sister to enter the room, just to let him fade way once and for all. And he did.

    1. somewhere deep inside he could sense them and held on to life.

      WOW. That’s some story, Limp! Enigma is definitely the right word – thank you.


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