What interested me is that the news article said she "died in her sleep", a phrase we commonly hear, and I always wonder what that means. Do people really die in their sleep, passing from comfortable sleep and dreams seamlessly into non-existence? Or do they awaken for one or two terrifying, perhaps painful moments, maybe clutching their hand to their heart or struggling for breath before they die?
I have seen many human beings die, most of them, of course, very premature babies. When they die, most often they just sort of drift off. They are asleep or unconscious because they are very sick, and we know they are dying because we see the heart rate drop on the monitor, not because there is any significant change in their activity. Sometimes, if we take them off the ventilator before their heart has finally stopped, they will take a deep gasp or two, more of a primitive reaction than a willful last stab at life, although it can be very hard for the parents to see.
With adults, though, the circumstances are often different. Sometimes they are very ill and comatose and drift off like our premies do, but other times they have a fairly sudden event, like a heart attack, or have painful last days, especially if they have terminal cancer.
I remember the first time I saw an adult die. I was an orderly during my college years in a men's ward of a hospital, and we had an elderly patient with terminal cancer who was a no code. One day as he was sitting awake propped up in bed, he just started breathing deeper and deeper, and the breaths came farther and farther apart. As the interval between breaths increased, the nurse aide and I urged him, "Breathe, Mr. Doe, breathe!", but it was to no avail. He didn't seem in pain and over a few minutes time just sort of drifted off into unconsciousness and finally didn't take another breath. It was a little weird for a 19 or 20 year old kid to see, and I still remember it vividly. It wasn't a terrible way to die and was preferable, in fact, to waking up in the dark in the middle of the night, alone with your last gasp.
"Dying in your sleep" probably means different things for different people. I don't know why I worry about it; it's not like we can choose how we go, anyway.