Vail Daily column: Die a good death |

Vail Daily column: Die a good death

No, this is not a quote from a movie where some hero laments a friend’s death. Dying a good death is actually an oxymoron. The phrase really implies living a good life and having a good culmination of life.

Dying a good death is a ubiquitous term. The Institute of Medicine defined a good death as “one that is free from avoidable suffering for patients, families and caregivers in general accordance with the patients’ and families’ wishes.” A recent Time magazine article stated, “A good death was about having lived long enough to see grandchildren, put one’s affairs in order and pass away surrounded by a loving family.” Perhaps a good death is the one we choose.

I recently read an article by Peter Tyndall, of Ireland’s Office of the Ombudsman that included the following quotation: “Talking about death is not easy. It is clear however that as individuals and a society we need to have a frank and honest conversation about it. We need to create for ourselves the best chance of having a good death and allowing those who remain behind to experience a healthy grieving process.”


We are all going to die. Although we may try to prolong it by eating well, exercising or via modern medicine, the end is inevitable. However, we do have the ability to live fully until that time. The choice is ours to live well up until the time death presents itself. We can accept it and make the transition manageable, even cathartic for ourselves and our loved ones.

When most people are asked how they want to die, most will say “in my sleep,” “suddenly” or “painlessly.” Unfortunately, we don’t actually have much say in the matter. What most people mean when they are asked this question is that they don’t want a painful or prolonged process. Most people want to die with a scene of worthiness, dignity and perhaps the knowledge that they have touched the lives of others.


For most of human existence, there were not many ways available to prolong life. Quite often, the duration between being diagnosed with a life-ending medical condition and death was relatively a short time span. Most often, people turned to religion in effort to abate death. Praying to their God, St. Joseph, using holy rosary or reciting Viduy provided most people hope for recovery and or solace in the transition from life to death.

It has only been in the past century or so that we have been able to provide cures for many of the illnesses that often took human life: cholera, smallpox, contagious disease, tuberculosis, etc. With the development of vaccines and morphine, physicians have been armed with great tools to treat the dying. Life expectancy thus changed as medical providers were able to identify, diagnose, and treat many of the ailments that were responsible for taking lives.

However, with all this advancement, are we now dying a better death? Is the ability to live longer better? What about the quality of life that is associated with extending one’s life?

Next week I will address these questions and, hopefully, provide a little insight.

Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. For more information, visit or call 970-328-5526.

Support Local Journalism