Q3. In Ira Byock's book Dying Well, Byock chronicles the painful process of watching his father die. At first, it was inconceivable to him that his father could pass away, and he met the first stages with a denial of the severity of his father's condition. "It was incomprehensible how all this could be lost" (Byock 1998: 5). This parallels the story of "The Death of Ivan Ilyich" by Leo Tolstoy, in which the title character first sees many doctors who give him conflicting diagnoses about his terminal condition and his family tries to ignore the fact that his condition is worsening, despite the treatment he is receiving. However, unlike Ivan Ilyich, Byock stresses that his father Seymour's life was a life 'well lived,' and his father ended his life surrounded by caring family members. Being with the dying person and tending to their needs, believes Byock, can be a powerful way to ensure that the dying process has a component of 'healing.'
However, Ivan Ilyich does experience flashes of insight. For example, he asks the peasant Gerasim to hold his legs to relieve his pain at times. Although this probably has no physical effect, instinctively Ilyich finds that Gerasim's compassion and matter-of-fact attitude towards illness and death is healing for him. He forms his first simple, human connection with someone else. Even though he is at first angry at his wife and children for their materialism, he dies forgiving them.
Ilyich is literally 'killed' by the house he has so carefully decorated -- he dies as a result of the accident he sustained while hanging curtains. However, after feeling anger about the way he is dying and the fact that someone who has tried to 'make it' in the world for so long must die, in death he finally comes to understand the meaningless nature of all of the things he has been striving for and can appreciate simple goodness and kindness. Although Ilyich may not have 'lived well' in the terms defined by Byock, at the very end he can be said to have 'died well' in the sense that he learned from the experience.