We all live, and we all will die some day.
For most of our lives, our deaths seem like they will happen at some unknown time far in the future.
Not so for Australian writer Cory Taylor when she died of cancer at age 61. In the last few weeks of her life, she produced a beautifully written book, Dying: A Memoir. I recommend the audio version, which is narrated by an Australian with a lovely accent.
This is the latest installment in my What I’m Reading series.
Ms. Taylor described her sometimes frustrating experiences with health care providers as it became clear that she was coming to the end. Both her parents died in nursing homes after long descents into dementia, and she wanted to avoid horrible experiences of death for herself and her family.
She considered committing suicide but decided against it because assisted suicide is illegal in Australia (as in most countries), and she didn’t want to traumatize survivors who would be surprised to find her corpse.
Most of the book is a reflection about her life and family. She had wanted to write a book about her parents but put it off while they were alive. What she described as her “slow death” provided her last opportunity to process and express her memories and feelings. I imagine that this probably was very satisfying for her as she approached the end of her life, especially as a gift to her beloved husband and children.
Lawprofblawg, an anonymous law professor, recently reflected on law professors’ lives, deaths, and legacies. He wrote that when law professors die, “the things that really are remembered are how the professor[s] helped others get jobs; how they mentored people; how their door was always open to students; lovable quirks in the classroom.”
Although we are incentivized to produce ever more publications, he argues that they have limited value as they are likely to be soon forgotten in the inexorable production of even more publications that no one may ever read.
He concludes by recommending that “we appreciate people while they are with us.”
I agree. In 2019, I wrote this post noting that giving appreciation is
a quintessential way to create value. Other than investing a little time, we incur no cost to express appreciation, which not only is likely to make others feel good but also makes us feel good to make others feel good.
These are extremely vexing times in our world and, individually, we cannot fix the big looming problems. But we can make things a little better by letting people know that we really appreciate them and what they have done for us.
Perhaps paradoxically, now that life generally is much more vexing, I think that this approach makes even more sense.
At least as important is to do things that others will appreciate. For faculty, this may consist of helping students learn important lessons, producing insightful ideas, and serving our communities, among other things.
We can die suddenly and at any age. So it’s important to live as if we might die tomorrow.
Whenever we die, we survive our deaths in others’ memories. Our best legacies may be the memories we leave with others.