Anne McCaffrey

Anne McCaffrey

When Anne McCaffrey died, I lost — in fact, we all lost — a kind, generous and undemanding friend, and it took some of the holiday spirit out of the Christmas-New Years time.

It also led me to think about the general question of death, as presented in the cases of three old friends. Annie died of a massive stroke as she was being helped into her wheelchair; it was over at once. Jack Williamson died after a period of increasing failures of his bodily organs. These had the effect of making his memory less sure and his response time increasingly slowed, until he was almost incapable of conversation. Isaac Asimov, as I understand it, was physically failing but quite aware of what was going on almost to the very end.

There are, of course, many other ways of dying, most of which are a good deal worse than any of these. But if your time came tomorrow and you had your choice of these three ways of doing it, Annie’s, Jack’s or Isaac’s, which would you pick, and why?


  1. Hamish says:

    quick – like Anne. I don’t want to be a burden on anyone, either mentally or physically.

  2. John Traylor says:

    Isaac’s way gives you the chance to say goodbye which I suppose is easier on one’s family. Anne McCaffery’s way is easier on the person dying I suppose.
    Although I would prefer to go to sleep and not wake up.

  3. Mikael Bergström says:

    Hm. Whichever of Isaacs or Annies way that gives me the most time before I go, I guess. jacks sounds like more or less the worst possible torture for me, as I identify quite a lot with my mental abilities, such as they are.

  4. Shakatany says:

    Oh definitely quickly like Anne… and my father and aunt. To me there is nothing more terrifying than the idea of a lingerdeath.

  5. H. E. Parmer says:

    Quick is the best.

    I think in the long run, it’s easier on those you leave behind, certainly better than a lingering illness in which those who love you get to watch you die by degrees. (And in our grotesque, sadistic parody of a “health care” delivery system, less likely to leave your family mired in debt.)

    The grief is unavoidable, whether it comes sooner or later. Besides, I hate goodbyes.

  6. Stefan Jones says:

    Fast and painless beats slow and agonizing and humiliating.

    On the other hand, knowing in advance means you can set your affairs in order and make your goodbyes.

    In Oregon, you can — if you are hopelessly, fatally ill — legally request and legally get a lethal dose from your doctor. The number of people who’ve actually done this is fairly low, and not everyone who gets the dose uses it. But it strikes me as a sane and humane solution.

  7. JohnArmstrong says:

    On top of someone I like, while laughing at the enormous credit card bill I’m not going to pay

  8. Russ Gray says:

    “When I die, I want to go like my grandfather, quietly in my sleep. Not screaming, like the other people in the car.”

  9. Jay Borcherding says:

    No big shock that a quick death is easily winning this self-selected poll. I agree.

    The slight advantages of a prolonged illness (having time to get my affairs in order, and to say my goodbyes), are far outweighed by the disadvantages of a prolonged illness, such as a profound physical and/or mental decline. Add in the financial costs, the possibility of great discomfort or even pain, and the loss of autonomy and independence that a prolonged illness would likely bring, and the advantages of a quick death become even more apparent.

    One of the reasons I support a right to physician assisted suicide, as allowed by Oregon law, is to have another legally available option. I doubt I would take advantage of such a right, but having such an option would be a comfort if the pain or the indignity became too profound to endure.

  10. Ken says:

    Watching “Dancing With The Stars” is like slow death. Slow death is like, well, slow death.

  11. Susan Kaye Quinn says:

    I plan on not dying. :)

  12. Howard Brazee says:

    Quick and painless.

    I don’t want to stick around to say good-bye. I want to live each day as a day which my loved ones would not mind remembering me.

  13. Geoff Coupe says:

    Isaac’s – I’d like time to prepare and get my affairs in order, thank you.

  14. Bill Goodwin says:

    Some sort of cascading seizure that opens up greater and greater levels of cosmic insight and euphoria until, in the instant before my last fuse burns out, I perfectly comprehend the nature and inevitability of existence, laugh at the absurdity of personal death, and willingly dissolve into the peace that passeth understanding. It would be nice if some light classical music were playing, a Vivaldi concerto perhaps, and if the process is prolonged I’d like to have a can of black cherry soda handy.

  15. jim flanagan says:

    Isaac’s, it would let me say my goodbyes and wrap things up

  16. Edward Kmett says:

    Isaac’s. I’d rather cling to life just a bit longer, understand a bit longer and have time to come to terms with a degenerative condition than just have someone turn out the lights, or lose the faculties I need to make such an adjustment.

  17. Neil Rest says:

    Recently, I ran into an article about how doctors behave when they receive terminal diagnoses. For the most part, they decline heroic measures. The inference is that they have seen so much of the expensive prolonged anguish modern technology enables that they would just as soon not.

    Anne is the subject of my very first great fannish memory.
    For a bit of context, I once saw her as GoH at a smallish con spend a couple of hours interacting with a delighted audience . . . while Gordy Dickson kept her champaigne glass from emptying. About a bottle and a half, and she never turned a hair. I never found out how Gordy pulled the cloak of invisibility trick, because no one else in the audience seemed to notice him.
    My very first con was the 1968 Worldcon, where Anne got a Hugo for her dragon story in Analog. Later that night, she was so drunk it took Randall Garrett to hold her up.