In Issue 11 of The Magazine (a subscription-based online and iPhone/iPad app that features fascinating short articles on a range of often-tech-related topics), Jane Hodges writes about the death of her father. The essay is a moving portrait of her father and of her experience after his death, as she threw away his things. But what struck me as most profound in the piece was Hodges' description of her father's quality of life in the months before he died, and his isolation and withering sense of self that she believes ultimately caused his death. Though her father suffered from chronic heart problems and died of a heart attack, "in this daughter’s heart," she writes, "he died because his final freedom—the freedom to use technology and the identity he got from it—was abruptly struck from his life."
"Up until the hospitalization that put him into rehab," Hodges writes, "my father had succeeded in ignoring his own physical decline because he still had a life of the mind, thanks largely to technology." Though his physical health was dwindling, and he could no longer engage in many of the physical the activities that had brought him real pleasure throughout his life, Hodges' father was able to stay actively connected to the world. Though his body was failing him, his mind was not, and he was able to keep his mind and his self agile, engaged, and well fed.
But the rehab facility where he spent his last weeks did not allow laptops and had no wireless Internet access, anyway. "Without the distractions of laptop and log on, he saw how narrow the tunnel of his life had become." Her father was rarely able to leave the rehab facility because of his fragile health. His isolation from the world was at once physical and mental.
It was, physically, a heart attack that killed Jane Hodges' father. But in a more emotionally minded reality, we can understand his death as the death of his sense of self, with his body merely following. His independence was gone, his access to the things he loved had been taken from him, and he was confined to a space that was not his own. On top of these factors, he was physically unwell. How would any person—sick or well—feel in a situation like this?
In my mind, the question that Hodges is raising is: what do we want end-of-life to look like? When we approach death, what kind of life do we want to be leading? The issues of where we want to be, how we want to be treated, who we want to be with, and what we want to be doing in our final time are not to be taken lightly. Though we will all someday die, and though the cause will ultimately be physical, the quality of our mental, emotional, psychological, and spiritual lives should not be discounted. These are, in the end, the things that make us who we are and give us reason to live.