One of my hospice patients was telling me about a man who was terrified to die. He had no family, so she took care of him for many years. I asked her why he was so afraid. He didn’t want to leave his dog, she said.
I had another patient who really wanted to die and couldn’t seem to. She had been married twice; no children; both husbands were dead. She and I wondered together whether they’d both be up there to greet her. She didn’t think so. She was discharged from hospice because she hung on so long; she finally died about a year later.
Douglas Hofstadter, author of Gödel, Escher, Bach, tells of his wife’s sudden death at 43 in his recent book I Am a Strange Loop. A good deal of his grief was for her, that she would never see their children grow up.
I’m not sure how those stories all hang together. But they make me wonder if the purpose of life is what you do with the knowledge that some day you won’t be here anymore.