Articles > Death, Grief and Loss > Rethinking Death

Rethinking Death

Published by Chapster on 2003/7/7 (3458 reads)
Death is enormously painful, striking a blow to the very core of our being and leaving us pained for months and years to come. It steals from us a sense of naivete that we use to shield ourselves from a sense of our own vulnerability.

When a loved one is dying, we fight it tooth and nail. The illness, the death, becomes, so often, the enemy. We offer an invitation to rethink our approach to this generally unwelcome invader. So often, our view of death has us seeing death as a failure. The health care system has failed. The caregiver has failed. The patient has failed.

Instead of seeing death as failure, symptomatic of our helplessness, we see it as an opportunity. For so many folks, the terminal diagnosis and the subsequent shift to palliative (i.e. comfort) care, mean the end has come. It says, "We are helpless."

In our experience, this is untrue. This is not a time for helplessness unless we choose for it to be. It is the final opportunity to seize the remaining time to make right what was wrong, to close the circle on unfulfilled wishes and potential regrets, to bless those we are leaving (a lost tradition that existed in ancient cultures), and to participate in our leaving.

A dear old lady, a patient of mine (Mike writing here), told me as often as I visited her that she wanted to go back to her home in the Piney Woods of East Texas. "I just want to set my bare feet into that soft green grass one more time. I want a big ole' shade tree over me. That's what I want." We tried to work the trip out for her and her family in spite of her fragile condition. I knew that she might die in my car. And, I knew that if she did I would just keep on driving until she got her wish and we got back into Dallas County.

She never got her wish. Family was fearful that if she went she would die on the way. I have to respect their judgment, but in my own mind, I guess I wonder, "So what if she did die? What is so wrong with that?"

I asked another lady, "If you could have anything you want to eat, what would it be?" She replied, "Fried shrimp. Dear God, I'd kill for fried shrimp." I asked her, "Well, if someone brought in a big platter of fried shrimp from a really good place, would you enjoy them?" She looked at herself and then at me and said, "No... You know, I'm trying to watch my weight." I couldn't hold in my reply: "You know, (her name), you ARE on HOSPICE!" She burst out laughing, a big belly laugh. Finally, with tears of laughter, she admitted I had a point (One of the few such occasions!).

Death is a class filled with potential. The faculty is hard and demanding, seemingly unforgiving. But, in the long haul, sometimes the hardest courses teach us the most.

By Mike Davis

Tags: meaning   dying   death   good   enemy  

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