Back to Columns


Dying in Bed

by J.P. McFarland

“I want to go home.” I said this when my family moved from New Hampshire to Vermont. I was six years old, and my father kept telling me I was home, but I didn’t believe him.

Translocation is a terrible thing. Translocated wild animals have a low survival rate: they need to compete for food and shelter in unfamiliar territory. Children are routinely translocated. So are the elderly.

When my in-laws moved to an assisted living facility, my mother-in-law said “I want to go home.” Home for her was a long-ago place somewhere in Canada. And when my father was dying in the ICU, he, too, wanted to go home, but in his case, home was the small, dark condominium he’d shared with my mother until her death the year before. He came close to getting home, but in the end, my brother and I–wiped out from the stress of arguing and sitting around watching our father die–didn’t have the will or the resources to get him there. The lure of a rare empty bed at a nearby hospice was too much. We jumped at it.

Beds have been around for thousands of years, but the idea of dying in one’s own has always been a quaint fantasy. It’s the Holy Grail of death: something hoped for and only rarely achieved.

I know just one person who got it right: the night after going shopping with his daughter, my father-in-law died in his sleep. This turned out to be a highly unusual event in the town where we lived.  Unwitnessed deaths are suspicious, and so the police were summoned to investigate the circumstances surrounding the death of a 91-year-old man in his own bed.

So how is it done?  How can you hope to avoid the nursing home, the ICU, the hospice, and those other strange places where people are sent to die.

1. Have money.

Maybe not a lot, but you’ll want to be able to stay in your house or live in a place where they cook for you, so start saving. (Too old to start? Skip the rest of this article.)

2. Have caretakers.

Ideally, they should be from one of those countries that venerate old people. (I’m told these places still exist.)  And if your caretakers like to play board games, all the better, but don’t let them take over the TV remote.

3. Have many children.

Make sure they’re considerate. Make sure they like you. And make sure they live nearby.  Also: be sure they all think the same way, agree on everything, and that none of them are interested in 1 above (your money), because that will create conflicts, many of which will lead to killing you for insurance or even worse–keeping you alive at any cost so as to enjoy pension checks, tax refunds, free cable, etc

4. Have a good disease.

Heart and kidney failure are best because they’re reasonably painless and manageable. Drink lots of water, but not too much. Watch your weight really carefully. (Note: I am not a doctor. If you have a medical emergency, dial 911.) Certain types of cancers are okay, too. Strokes are out. Dementia is out.

5. Pay attention.

The doctors will throw so much jargon around you won’t know which way is up. You need to slice through all the studies and test results and ask them what it is you’re supposed to do to stay alive and out of the hospital. Too overwhelming? Then be sure to bring one of your smart kids, or failing that, one of your venerating caretakers.

6. Charm those doctors.

Really? But aren’t they objective healers working in everyone’s best interests? No. They’re people. They like hanging out with people they like. Talk about your hobbies and your family. Ask them about their kids.  Don’t ignore their advice. If they like you, they listen more carefully, they try a bit harder, they get more creative. They want what’s best for you. (As for the ones they don’t like, well, that’s why the medical profession is pushing so hard for assisted suicide.)

7. Be smart.

The docs like smart patients because they don’t waste people’s time and they usually aren’t self-destructive. Sixty percent of patients don’t take their prescription medications because they forget or they don’t like the side effects. Most refuse to wear their hearing aids. That pisses off the healthcare providers. See 6 above.

So that’s it. Start feeding your 401(k). Call your kids on their birthdays. Listen carefully and stay lucid. Or did I say that already?

About the Writer

J.P. McFarland has long been a believer in the power of negativity and feels that people shouldn’t be afraid to listen to their inner “no” voice. For example, he suspects children would talk less if their parents were more willing to say “No, that’s wrong,” or “No one cares about your stupid opinion.” In addition, well-timed words of discouragement might have prevented the development of many useless inventions (e.g., the space shuttle, foam pillows, mayonnaise, etc.). If invited, he would lecture on this topic or write a scholarly article. He currently is working on a self-help book entitled “Your Silence is Golden.”


Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments