How to Die Well, According to a Palliative Care Doctor

Preparing for death by making peace with it

Mark Starmach
Forge
Published in
12 min readJan 18, 2019

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Illustrations: Mark Starmach

First, you withdraw.

Life shrinks down to the size of your home, then to your bedroom, then to your bed—sometimes over months, but more often over weeks.

Old joys stop having the same pull.

You eat less, drink less. Have less interest in speaking.

As your body’s systems start shutting down, you have less and less energy.

You sleep more and more throughout the day.

You start to slip in and out of consciousness and unconsciousness for longer periods of time.

Staying alive starts to feel like staying awake when you are very immensely tired.

At some point, you can’t hold on any longer.

And then you die.

A calm fall into a cosmic sleep.

But that’s not even the half of it.

“There are four ways people tend to die,” the older woman opposite me says as she reaches for a napkin and a ballpoint pen.

This woman is Dr. Yvonne McMaster, a retired palliative care physician turned campaigner for the cause. You see, soon after she retired, Yvonne discovered that…

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