At His Own Wake, Celebrating Life and the Gift of Death

Dr. Green has neither of those problems. She was well rested and happy heading to the hospice that morning. If she felt jittery, it was only because she was double- and triple-checking the procedure in her mind and making sure she was ready.

She took the elevator to the third floor and walked down the hospice’s beige hall to Mr. Shields’s room. They talked intimately for a few minutes. She asked him if he still wanted to go ahead. He did.

She was convinced that he was of sound enough mind to make this decision. He signed the last page of official paperwork, confirming that he had been given the chance to change his mind and that he still wanted to go through with this.

Dr. Green instructed a nurse to set up his intravenous line while she slipped down the hall to go over the procedure with his friends and family.

She assured them that his death would be peaceful. He would simply go into a deep sleep and might even snore. But, if at any time it got too hard, they should leave the room. “There are no medals for staying,” she said. “There’s no judgment for leaving.”

Mr. Shields had asked five people to be there: his wife, his stepdaughter, Mr. Skovgaard, Ms. Fox and Ms. Allport, who was overseeing his death ceremony. When they entered his room, Mr. Shields greeted them with a smile. His blue eyes twinkled, matching a fresh aqua T-shirt. The quilt of unexpected kindness was spread over his legs.

The room was dark and cool. The overhead lights were off and one of the windows was open. Across its sill, an altar had been fashioned with cedar boughs, smooth stones, eagle feathers, a small red candle and a tiny bell. The emerald moss coating the limbs of a giant Garry oak tree outside glowed into the room.

Since Mr. Shields could not die in his garden, his garden had been brought to him.

A large white candle flickered on the night stand beside him. The hospital tray that had held his meals for the past two weeks was…

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