It won't kill you to talk about death... By Deborah Darby Views and insights from someone who has volunteered with those facing end-of-life issues for many years; a strong leaning toward the acceptance of the reality of death including the value of becoming involved with hospice early on, not waiting until the last few days. Some guidance on talking about/planning for death.
Tuesday, March 26, 2013
I have more life in me than my mother, who died a long-sought and in the end, merciful death at age 59...but I look forward to the end of life for different reasons. She made decisions, both conscious and unconscious that kept her short life uncomfortable if not agonizing, almost featureless except for her pain and far, far from her control at every stage.
I recall as a child making a conscious choice "not to catch" the sicknesses that kept my mother bed-bound much of the time. I didn't know the names of her ailments then, but among them were: migraines, insomnia, hypertension, diabetes, various addictions with the accompanying disorders those behaviors brought and finally, debilitating and fatal heart disease. As for me, so far, so good.
When she died and I saw her body at the funeral home, I realized that she also had carpal tunnel syndrome. Her hands were curled inward as if she, who transcribed court reporter notes, were fixed for eternity in the downward stroke of a typewriter keyboard. She didn't know she had carpal tunnel; nor did we. So much of her life was endured in ill health that the unceaseable ache of carpal tunnel with throbbing thumbs and burning forearms must have blended into the other constancy of her pain.
Like my mother, my career is based on having my hands on the keyboard. Many years ago I temped for hand surgeons, transcribing their immense dictation on every patient. Ironically, as I transcribed the details of surgery on hands and arms crippled by carpal tunnel syndrome and the requisite surgery and rehab, my own hands began their long decline into my own version of the typing-tinged angst of carpal tunnel.
Proud as I am of "not catching" her other ailments, I notice that, along with carpal tunnel syndrome, I do have more and more minor aches and pains as I approach old age. No doubt my mother had some of these same arthritic degenerations, again, unnoticed in her extraordinary overlay of almost endless agony. My modest aches and pains are now a feature of day-to-day life, remitting reluctantly when I do yoga or lounge in hot water. Ice packs and aspirin help, too.
As I age, I feel a deep kinship with my mother. We were blessed to have made our peace long before she died and we've grown closer still over the years that she's been gone. When I look in the mirror, I see her body, grown lush with the love of food and the act of eating. My father often said that Mother dug her grave with her spoon and I recognize similar behavior in myself. Well trained in the indolent lifestyle of a Southern Belle by my very fussy and impossible to please grandmother, I find that despite my best efforts, some days the only activity I get is walking to the refrigerator or pushing the microwave start button.
And though I'm older than my mother was when she died, I've not yet been called to the other side, so I've got work to do here. I'm grateful that there are ways for me to work with those who are dying; counseling a grieving acquaintance or calling a stranger to discuss Hospice care. Being there for a friend who must have her assistive animal put down or hearing an acquaintance's last happy words as she recognizes the afterlife that she didn't expect. I live a life laced with death. And happily so. It is the work I am on earth to do. Working with death and dying...and writing about it.
A book I read recently - Dancing Naked at the Edge of Dawn - by Kris Radish, features a character who discovers that "...the secret of life is really death..." That phrase sums up my philosophy on death.
And it strengthens my belief that death brings us the most important lesson we're here to learn...or else it wouldn't happen right at the very end.