When he learned his prognosis, he and his wife talked about how to proceed. She was a year’s credit short of a teaching degree. He told her to go back to school and complete the degree so she could support the children. She did. In fact, she started teaching even before he died.
I remember thinking it was unbelievable that a couple could be so close and know each other so well that they could plan for death. It was a real sharing of adults. In my experience, that is rare. From what I’ve seen and read, families in similar situations are rarely that open with each other.
Ted was very realistic. He accepted the fact that he was going to die, he made his plans, and he made the best of the time he had. His major aim before he died was to turn the family’s attic into a room for their son. Apparently the children had been sharing a bedroom. Ted told everybody about his plans for the attic, told us all about the colors he was using—red and blue—and kept us posted on the progress. He worked on the attic between admissions to the hospital. By the time he died, the room was finished.
I became interested in death a few years after Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s book On Death and Dying was published. Since few of my friends were interested in the subject, and I didn’t have anybody to talk to, I started reading books. Kubler-Ross was the pioneer. Her book was the one everybody was talking about. It was the first book on the subject I ever read.
I reacted to it very negatively. What the author said about the five stages people go through as they gradually come to accept death seemed dogmatic to me. Although I hadn’t had that much experience with dying patients, the experience I had had didn’t bear out what Kubler-Ross was saying. I thought, “Does everybody really go through those five stages? Why can’t I accept that? Maybe I’m blocking something.”
Then I read some more, and I started talking to people. I soon realized that there’s disagreement about the existence of five stages. In later articles Kubler-Ross herself wrote that everyone doesn’t necessarily go through all five. Some people get to one and never go any further. Some people never accept dying. Some stay angry. Reading these things, I began to see that I wasn’t crazy. Later articles I have read of Kubler-Ross’s have been very nice. Comforting and really beautiful.