Ted Kennedy’s “good ending for himself”

Mark Leibovich, of the New York Times, has written a remarkable article about the last months of the late Senator Ted Kennedy.  You can read the whole thing here:

After Diagnosis, Determined to Make a “Good Ending”

Leibovich interviewed many of Kennedy’s friends, colleagues and family members for his article.  Representative Bill Delahunt (D), a friend of Senator Kennedy’s, made an observation that resonates with me very deeply:

“This is someone who had a fierce determination to live, but who was not afraid to die…And he was not afraid to have a lot of laughs until he got there.”

According to Leibovich, Kennedy

“told friends that he wanted to take stock of his life and enjoy the gift of his remaining days with the people he loved most. “I’ve had a wonderful life,” he said repeatedly…”

The knowledge of his impending death heightened the intensity of Kennedy’s everyday activities: he began conversations with the words, “Every day is a gift,” according to his friend Peter Meade.  

Just over a year ago, Senator Kennedy was given what, on the surface, seems like a nightmare: a diagnosis of terminal brain cancer. Kennedy received what many of us dread the most: advance notice of when, and how, he was probably going to die. Like it or not, though, we all have “advance notice” of our impending death. Sure, we don’t know when or how we’re going to die, but that we will die is nonnegotiable.

What if we lived our lives every day with an awareness of our impending death? We live in a consumer culture whose message is, “Buy this, stay young at all costs, and whatever you do, don’t think about death.” We sequester our old people and sick people in nursing homes and hospitals; because we perceive them as being closer to death than we are, we don’t want to have to see or think about them.  In ignoring and denying death, we ignore and deny much of life’s beauty.

Rather than sink into despair over his diagnosis, Senator Kennedy embraced the opportunity to, in his words, “make a good ending for [him]self.” If Mark Leibovich’s article is any indication, Senator Kennedy succeeded admirably in doing so.  I’m not trying to canonize Ted Kennedy, here; his past was not without missteps and scandals.  But there is much to be learned from the way Ted Kennedy chose to spend his last year of life.

Dr. Lawrence C. Horowitz oversaw Senator Kennedy’s medical care and is quoted as saying, “There were a lot of joyous moments at the end…There was a lot of frankness, a lot of hugging, a lot of emotion.” For my part, I aspire to a life and a death filled with joyous moments, frankness, hugging, and emotion.


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