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Here’s A Particularly Sad Story About Life & Death

Stories about death are important. They’re just as necessary as stories about life. While the idea of death scares the fuck out of me, I put myself in the position of staring it in the face quite frequently as to not let it overwhelm me. I want to become as familiar with the process as possible since it is the big climax of our existence. Films like Life Itself teaches you this, books like The Year Of Magical Thinking teaches you this, and the cover story of last week’s New York Times Magazine teaches you this.

The story is follows the years and months and weeks and days leading up to the death of Sandy Bem. She was a very accomplished thinker, mother, wife, friend, teacher, etc. who was diagnosed with Alzheimers and had the strong thought to kill herself before the disease killed her. It’s a story about ownership of life in terms of quality, the constant question being “When is life over if the mind disappears?” The question is obviously complicated.

There are some brilliant family dynamics at play here not to mention great education in both this mind illness and condoned suicide. The writer of the story— Robin Marantz Henig—does a fantastic job of weaving all of these themes together and providing the sad reminder of the inevitable, inescapable ending: Sandy is going to die.

“You know I plan to kill myself,” Sandy said all through 2013, whenever the thought occurred to her. She seemed to say it partly for the sake of others, so they could get used to the idea and steel themselves against pain and grief when the time came. But it seemed that it was also for her own sake, to keep her plan at the forefront of her disintegrating mind.

Gulp. What a devastating passage. I read the story on a very long bus ride home from work and was frequently combating eye sweats of emotions. I eventually did cry in the end despite knowing that, yes, Sandy would be gone. We’ll all be gone, one day—that doesn’t make it any easier to process.

That final scene in the story is particularly beautiful. Sandy went out quietly but in a way that was loved—and on her own terms. I don’t think this spoils anything but she also had a glass of wine to see her into the night. Rest in peace, Sandy.

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