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What Joe Green is doing to prepare for death is trying to reach out to a wider public to express his desire to see people be unafraid to talk about it. (iStockphoto/iStockphoto)
What Joe Green is doing to prepare for death is trying to reach out to a wider public to express his desire to see people be unafraid to talk about it. (iStockphoto/iStockphoto)

What it’s like to face death in hospice Add to ...

This is part of a series about extraordinary experiences in personal health. Share yours at health@globeandmail.com.

There’s a lot of luck in my life, a lot of good fortune. Some of it I worked for, but there is a lot of serendipity that happens – the wife I met, the kids we had, the jobs I got, the people I met and worked with – all of that gave me a very rich existence. And so, I guess I’m feeling not so bad, even now, when I’m supposed to be dead. It’s been good and I’m ready. I’m ready to go. I mean, I don’t want to go, but I’m ready.

What I’m doing now to prepare for death is trying to reach out to a wider public to express my desire to see people be unafraid to talk about it. People are fearful of talking about death. But we should talk about it: Do we need a plot right now for burial? What do we have to think about? It doesn’t have to be that frightening.

The end of life, as many primitive societies saw, was merely the end of a cycle, a very natural cycle. So maybe it’s just getting that natural cycle back into the consciousness of people who are otherwise scared to death even to think about it. My mother-in-law, if you ever mentioned death in her presence, would say, “We don’t talk about that.” Well, I don’t think that’s healthy.

Do I feel afraid? I would say more curious than afraid. I’m not a spiritualist. I don’t think there is anything after. When I close my eyes for the last time and they slip me into the box, I don’t think there is anything there. People do. Not only reincarnation, but life after death and the trumpets and the angels and the devils down below. To me, it’s blank.

It’s hard to say what a typical day here at the hospice is like because it changes. I wake up in the morning. I go and have my breakfast of pancakes and eggs in the Great Room. Five weeks ago, I was holding court out there. I was good fun and I think I helped animate the room a little bit because a lot of people aren’t as voluble or talkative as I am. But then, I started to feel myself getting short of breath and more tired.

Now for the last week and a half, I’ve been coming back to bed in the morning. During the day when I’m resting more and more, I feel like I’m moving into a Zen mode, where I’m just kind of not thinking about anything. Sometimes I’ll have the music on, and sometimes I won’t. Sometimes I’ll drift off into sleep and sometimes I won’t. And I’m kind of just there.

It was 11 o’clock after I had breakfast, and I came in here, and all of a sudden, it was 2:30. So? Where was I? I was here. Kind of. But not really.

I’ve started to slow down, as I’m supposed to, I guess. That’s the regimen. I slow down till there ain’t more slow.

Joe Green, 82, is a resident at the Kensington Hospice in downtown Toronto. He is a former film and television producer and professor emeritus at York University, where he was a founding dean of the faculty of fine arts. Green was diagnosed with bladder cancer in 2015.

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