You’ve had that talk. “This is how I want to die,” you tell friends, a flip declaration going down on no paper with no log other than a glass of wine. “That’s how.” Everyone nods, some laugh, and it’s all lighthearted fun based in heartache.
You probably want it to be a party. Who doesn’t want to be celebrated when they die? No one should wear black, we’ll all eat cake and drink champagne, and, like a cruise liner making a maiden voyage, we’ll send you off, waving with tears in our eyes as you dissolve into the ocean. It will be bittersweet but it was what you wanted. It’s what we all want. No one wants death to be sad because we’re all afraid of that end. Why not find the positive in the most negative aspect of life? Why not make it comfortable?
California based artist Betsy Davis did exactly this. In her late thirties, she was diagnosed with ALS and her situation quickly deteriorated. This year, at 41, she decided that she wanted her life to end before her situation could get any worse. So what did she do? She threw a party where she died at the end.
First recounted by Daily Mail which rippled and rippled until it reached USA Today and beyond, Davis’ story is one of inspiration more than tears. She sent an email to friends, inviting them to a two day celebration with a few stipulations: everyone can only be happy and light, no one can cry in front of Betsy, but she could cry, if she liked. Why? Because she would be leaving by the end of the weekend.
As USA Today accounts, the weekend and party was structured like a wedding with festivities led by friends, a rehearsal dinner, and a final “Rebirth” ceremony where Davis took a cocktail of pills to pass away, in private.
When guests arrived to the ceremony on the day of her death, Betsy was sitting on the porch, surrounded by loved ones. She insisted everyone go through her belongings, taking clothing, artwork and other memorabilia.
“I didn’t want to,” Pantera says. “But then she made me, and it turned into a little fashion show. She was really happy any time we had a ‘taker.’ It felt like beautiful closure for her.”
Around 6:30 p.m., Betsy’s father asked everyone to step outside for photos, almost like a wedding.
“But there was a lot of nervous energy, anticipation,” Pantera says. “A critical part of law is that she had to self-administer the (lethal cocktail of drugs). We wanted to make sure she could take all the medicine quickly, that she could get enough in her. We were really nervous about that. It was my main fear.”
You can imagine the weight of this joyous celebration and the difficultly of the eventual goodbye. This is the reality of those goodbye parties that we all want: one person leaves the party and never comes back. Everyone else has to dance through tears, for better or worse, and catalogue the experience in the back of their minds until the day comes for their turn.
Davis is an inspiration and, from the press her story has gotten, the story articulates a command over life and death that we all want. We all want control and the two thing we have no control over—life and death—were reclaimed by her, recontextualized, and reshaped into something else.
Saying goodbye is hard but inevitable. No wonder we all want a party.