My brother-in-law, George Klotz, died today after a long illness. He and my little sister, Liz, had been married for 55 years.
George died from prostate cancer, and he had been legally blind for years. Liz had to take ever greater responsibility for him. Until today, when everything changed for her.
George fought hard for his life. But on adequate pain medication he died peacefully today. George lived in Chino, California, and as a veteran will be buried in Riverside National Cemetery. I will fly there for the funeral.
The family knew this was coming. And so, all day today I have been thinking about that famous statement, “This is a good day to die.”
Used in numerous books, movies, albums, and song tracks, this statement still raised questions in my mind. Who said it and why? What does it mean?
The statement probably strikes most of of as being illogical. This is certainly a good day to live.
Isn’t the day that we die an awful day? No, it’s not. Nothing inevitable can be evil. If we reflect that we could die today, we are sure to appreciate this day of our life all the more.
Until today when I looked up the source of the statement, “This is a good day to die,” I had never heard of the person who as far as we know first uttered those words. Chief Low Dog of the Hunkpapa Sioux used those words to motivate his troops for a charge against superior forces at the Battle of the Little Bighorn — also known as Custer’s Last Stand — in 1876.
“I called to my men,” Low Dog told The Leavenworth Weekly Times five years later, telling them, “’This is a good day to die: follow me.’” In the event, Chief Low Dog and most, if not all, of his troops survived the charge.
Here we are certainly talking courage against the obstacles that life throws in our path. But it means still more.
Like the statement, “A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do” (often incorrectly attributed to one or another of John Wayne’s films as well as being sexist), it means we must accept the inevitable.
Like the statement, “Get your affairs in order,” the code words doctors use to break the news that they can’t do any more for us. We need to have our affairs constantly in order.
Like my sister’s statement this morning when she called me with the news of her husband’s death, “Show your appreciation for those who you care for,” since this may be the last day of their life — or of yours.
Unlike my brother-in-law’s prostate cancer, the diabetes that afflicts us is not terminal. We can and do live with it, and those of us who control our diabetes well even thrive. We even do better when we reduce the stress in our lives. Like not stressing out over our inevitable end.
If we are ready to die, then every day we live is a bonus. Every day is something for us to be grateful for.
For me every day of the past half century has been a bonus. I was a sickly child, and I somehow identified with an airman whose name was like mine and who died at age 21 in World War II. So I savor the days of my life. May you also savor yours.
This is a good day to live. Or a good day to die. Whatever happens.
HealthCentral published an earlier version of this article.