A few weeks ago, I spoke by phone to Holly Prigerson, a clinical researcher on grief at the Dana Farber Cancer institute at Harvard. She told me something that lodged in my brain. Research has shown that when a terminally ill patient "accepts" her death, the bereaved—her family and friends—typically find their grief more manageable than when a terminally ill patient is in "despair" about her death. It is, of course, difficult to study "grief," because the salient feature of grief is that it's not monolithic or singular; it's personal and variable. That said, there are many universal features of grief, I've discovered from talking to and hearing from others who've seen loved ones die. And one seems to be this, the ameliorating influence of watching your loved one accept his or her death.
While it did not directly address 'acceptance', a piece titled "You're going to die the way you live," appeared earlier this week on CNN and touches on the same subject.
The idea that dying well is as important as living well gained cultural currency last year when Randy Pausch, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University, delivered a final lecture a month after learning that his pancreatic cancer had spread and was inoperable. The lecture was viewed millions of times on the Internet and adapted into a best-selling book.
"We cannot change the cards we are dealt," Pausch, who died in July at age 47, told his audience, "just how we play the hand."