The Fine Art of Dying Well

Courage and dignity are crucial, but the noble death often depends on luck

A. Datta / AFP / Getty

Mother Teresa's body lies in state during her funeral, Sept., 13, 1997.

"Dying is easy. Parking is hard." Art Buchwald's little witticism nicely captured his chosen path to a good death: mocking it to the very end. There is great courage and dignity in that, which is why Buchwald's extended goodbye (he died on Jan. 17) earned him such appreciation and admiration. But dying well is also a matter of luck. By unexpectedly living almost a full year after refusing dialysis for kidney failure, Buchwald won himself time to taunt the scythe.

Timing is everything. When former Congressman—and distinguished priest and liberal luminary—Robert Drinan died earlier this year, the Washington Post published a...

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