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Ira  Byock, MD was the Director of Palliative Medicine at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, New Hampshire and is currently Professor of Anesthesiology and Community & Family Medicine at Dartmouth[…]

Dying is Hard

Question: Why is dying hard?


Ira Byock: Well, dying is uncomfortable, , and particularly these days mean even physically, it’s not fun. People, because of the power of medicine people are living much longer, they are living longer and accumulating more burden of disease often, and so they are dying in more pain than people the early part of the last century, dying over prolong periods of time, but then there is the inherently human emotional pain, existential pain of dying, which is against part and parcel of the human condition.

The fact that we are able to contemplate our life and the meaning of our life, and to be so articulate within ourselves, and between people and the love that we have for one another imposes a downside of knowing in such detail the extend of our losses, the feeling, emotionally the pain of losing people that we love, losing people for whom are the most important things of our life, around whom our life revolves. The notion of, where am I going? What happens after I am not here? There is the great deal of pain in having lived and contemplating non-life for many people. What’s interesting is even those most pure existentialists, who contemplate non-existence and don’t believe in god or in after-life, feel the pain of non-existence beyond this life, but if you ask them to contemplate a time before they were born, it has not nearly the amount of angst, in other words non-existence before we were here, has none of the emotional charge of existentialist annihilation beyond this life.


Recorded on: March 21, 2008