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John Wooden's Feelings on Death


Much has been said about John Wooden's inspiring approach to life, but what can we learn about his attitude towards death? His family and former player Keith Erickson reflect that he hated being in the hospital, and wasn't happy for the last two years of his life. At the same time, the inner peace that Wooden expresses in this video evokes a powerful image of a "good death." How can his story be used to bring attention to the role and importance of palliative care?

Watch this incredible one minute video on John Wooden's feelings about death (interview with Rick Reilly). It moved me so much that I watched it several times and transcribed it below.



REILLY: Are you afraid to die?
WOODEN: No. I’m not afraid to die.
REILLY: How come?
WOODEN: Why should I be afraid? That is the most wonderful thing that’ll ever happen. It really is. Absolutely I’m not afraid to die.

"Once I was afraid of dying, Not Anymore" by Swen Nater (former Bruin player), written for John Wooden

Once I was afraid of dying. Terrified at ever lying.
Petrified of leaving family, home and friends.
Thoughts of Absence from my Dear Ones,
Brought a melancholy tear once
And a dreadful dreadful fear of when life ends

But those days are long behind me,
Fear really does not bind me.
And departure does not hold a single care

Peace has comfort as I ponder
A reunion in Thy yonder,
With my dearest one who is waiting for me there

Posted by Lindsey Yourman

Comments

Anonymous said…
As a John Wooden fan and caregiver of a mother with Alzheimer Disease, I am doubtful whether this sort of inner peace is an option for everyone. My mom is tortured with questions about whether her parents are still alive, where she lives, and who her children are. Her mind is gone, and her body is starting to go. She is not religious. Furthermore, I think it is far beyond the realm of healthcare workers to help ensure an "inner peace." The latter is something determined by that individual's personal history, cognitive status, and social support. It is nice that Palliative Care doctors care, but I think it is beyond the scope of their power to ensure the emotional well-being of their patients. Their efforts are better spent on physical well-being.
Aaron Tuch said…
"[...] but what can we learn about his attitude towards death?"

Oh, so many lessons we could learn from the Wizard of Westwood. When I watch this clip, I see a person truly at peace with the inevitability of death. One could fill an entire book with Woodenisms, but here's one that I'm sure we've all heard parroted by our coach or freshman algebra teacher:

"Failure to prepare is preparing to fail." ~John Wooden

I’ve always understood this aphorism as it’s applied to life’s pursuits, but now I see it as similarly meaningful within the context of palliative and geriatric care. Without medical professionals collaborating with elders (and their family members) to encourage proper preparation for end-of-life care, it is less likely that Wooden’s fearlessness towards death can be instilled in others who are nearing their sunset.

P.S. I really enjoy this blog...including the posts unrelated to sports! Great catch, Yourman.
Dan Matlock said…
I agree with anon that this inner peace isn't an option for everyone. That said, it is a reasonable goal.

I disagree that providers should stick to physical suffering. In fact, I think these forms of suffering are all related (which is why hospice and palliative care are best performed as a multi-disciplinary team). I remember a young woman dying of breast cancer in a significant physical crisis. Her pain was basically unresponsive to all medications. One afternoon, she spent 3 hours with the chaplain. Her pain disappeared and we started decreasing her narcotics. She died 3 days later. I have no idea what they talked about (the chaplain wouldn't say) but it was clearly important for her physical suffering.

Again, not an opiton for everyone - I've seen some bad deaths - but certainly a goal worth keeping.
Eric Widera said…
My favorite line by a patient when asked if he was afraid to die:

Death is a mystery. Why whould I be afraid of a mystery?
Anonymous said…
That guy must have had an interesting personality, because that is precisely why death is so scary to most people-- the unknown is scary-- it allows for limitless unsettling possibilities. Wooden's certainty about where he'll go in "the afterlife" seems to be the foundation of his peace. It seems likely that one's desire for certainty has a strong influence on how they feel about death, and whether they become more or less religious as they grow older.

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