A light has gone out in our community, and in the wider world. Marilyn Henry, a gifted journalist and a giving human being, died Tuesday night, leaving us all bereft of her unflinching intelligence and her passion for truth. (See page 41.)
That unflinching intelligence was startlingly in evidence in a piece that appeared in this newspaper in November. Called “Hospice care offers a program of life, not a prescription for death,” it dealt, head on, with the fact of her expected death from cancer and how she planned to die.
“Many people,” she wrote, “endure debilitating treatments because they may offer months or years of good health, if not a cure. I am not in that group. Seeing no rosy future, I chose to focus on the quality of my life, rather than the quantity of time I might have gotten with treatment. For me, that means registering for hospice when the time comes. I am not yet ‘ripe’ for this system of end-of-life care. But when I am, a nurse and social worker, supervised by a physician, will provide pain relief and counseling for me and my family, in our home, to help us live as normally as possible for as long as possible.
“This seems to me to be a peaceful way to meet the Grim Reaper, malach hamavet.”
She wrote, “I want to live my life; I do not want cancer to be my life. I am not much interested in talking about my cancer or hearing stories of others’ ailments, and I tend to dread even well-intentioned questions and advice.
“I choose to discuss it now because of the paradox that so many people are squeamish talking about hospice, an institution that puts me at ease as I face a frightening future. I presume it is because they equate hospice with death. They respond with a forceful combination of fear, anxiety, and revulsion when they ask how I am and I start singing the praises of hospiceâ€¦.
“[A]lthough in grim circumstances,” she concluded, “I know I have choices. I will choose hospice, because as the Torah commands us in Deuteronomy (30:19), I choose life.” (For the entire article, go to http://bit.ly/hospicemh.)
By the way, complimented on how well-written the piece was, she shot back, “That’s not the point.” Marilyn Henry wrote not to please or entertain the reader, but to inform, in lucid prose that let her thoughts and feelings shine through.
On Tuesday night, she died as she had planned to die, in the Villa Marie Claire Hospice of Holy Name Medical Center, with friends and family around her.
May her memory be for a blessing.