Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday I will post something about grief. Sometimes it will be a reflection on an aspect of grief’s landscape. Now and then I will share from my own journey of grief, because in the sharing of our stories we find strength and build a community of people that support one another.

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Thursday, January 27, 2011

End Talks

We’ve all heard people say something like, “Don’t talk about death. Death is morbid.” So we don’t. And because we don’t talk about it, when death comes to someone we know, we’re not ready. We don’t know what to do or say.

Evelyn and I had not talked about end-of-life issues. We were in our 40s and anticipated discussing this sometime in the distant future. One morning I went to work, Ev had a heart attack, and I didn’t have the chance to say goodbye.

When she was unconscious in the ICU, I needed immediate answers for a lot of medical questions without knowing what she wanted. Thankfully she had a sticker on her driver’s license for donating organs, so I did not have to struggle over that decision. I did have to decide when hope was gone and turn off the life-support machines.

We were young so we had an excuse. My parents, on the other hand, when they were in their late 80s, still hadn’t discussed this, until we, the children, pestered them until they made basic decisions about medical, financial, and assisted-living contingencies.

Dying is an experience of life; it’s not death.

We fight dying, hoping that something else can be done, and spend our last months scrounging around for alternative treatments. Doctors keep fighting, too, hoping that a different procedure, a new drug, might work. Then, when the battle is lost and death comes, there is so much about our life that we have left unsaid and undone. 

Simply put, we are not ready to die when we die because we don’t know how. We always think that we’ll have more time, and in our efforts to not die, we stop living.

Even if no one is dying, someone will be planning ahead and say something that’s connected to death like making out their will, planning their funeral service, writing their obituary, signing up to be an organ donor in case the unexpected should happen, wondering about the differences between cremation and burial, or trying to decide if extraordinary methods should be used to keep them alive, but no one else wants to talk about this. So we don’t talk about it, but a lot of people still die.

It’s time that we talk to each other about how we want to close out our lives. It’s time we learn how to celebrate the last stage of human life.

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