Cheerful topic, Yes? No? Halloween is really over. Some of you might have heard but I had some sudden news; that while I was in Houston, basking in the glow of Story Masters and the font of all knowledge, back in San Diego my dear half-sister Patty, died. She had been dealing with cancer for over eight years. I got word from my other sister, Betty who told me that when Patty found out that both Chemo and Radiation were no longer working, that the cancer had metastasized to too many places in her body, she decided to stop taking any medication. She got together with her children, put all of her financial affairs in order, contacted Hospice and let nature take its course. What a truly brave woman.
We need to talk about death and dying because as a culture and a country we waste so much money and effort in the Cult of Denying Death. I’m sure somewhere in hospital beds across the country, there are older Americans whose bodies are being kept alive by machines, at the insistence of children, wracked with guilt, who want the doctors to do everything they can to keep grandma or grandpa alive. It saddens me because that doesn’t have to happen. There are so many tools available for us so we won’t have to be a burden to our loved ones. Do you have a will? If not, write one. Do you have an Advanced Health Care Directive, also known as a Living Will? That is the legal document that tells your doctor, your family, how you want to spend your last days. You can ask that the doctors do every heroic measure you can think of to keep you going. Or, you can say “no thanks” and be brave live my sister and trust that nature’s course is the right one. Look into Hospice care; find out what your options are.
I’m taking the time to write about this because I’ve seen death done, how I consider the correct way: where you decide ahead of time how you want it handled. And I’ve seen it bungled, where grief-stricken, shocked family members find themselves having to make decisions that no one should have to make. Trust me, you don’t want to inflict this kind of pain and heartache on the ones you love.
It is the season for it, with autumn and shorter days, as we prepare for winter, it is a time when many people chose to let go. My father died on November 10, 2002. Now might not seem like it, but why not use it as an opportunity to to talk about dying. Today is Veteran’s Day, when we remember veterans who gave their lives willingly for us, why not ask the question: how do you want to die? When the time comes, I want to die sitting on a bench looking at a garden. I realize it doesn’t have to be my own garden, but any garden. Any place where green things grow and thrive, where they are well taken care of.
Turn to the one you love and tell them that you are going to be there for them, to change their diaper and spoon feed them if you have to. That you are in this relationship for the truly long haul. It might make you feel weepy, but really, isn’t that what love is all about? That you are willing to do whatever it takes to make your loved one’s death as smooth, easy, gentle and loving as best you can? And be brave enough to ask them to do the same for you. If you can do that, then your relationship will grow richer, and be fuller.
I was honored enough to be at my father’s bedside when he took his last breath. I had my hand on his chest and felt his last heartbeat. It was, and still remains one of the most treasured moments of my life on this planet. It was transcendent of any other experience I have ever had. I treasure my father for the life he gave me and for the blessings of a most gentle, peaceful death. That’s what I want for my end.
Yes, it sucks to think of death, it’s sad, it often feels like such a waste. But we owe it to ourselves and the ones we love to be honest about this most natural of acts. After my father died, a close family friend said I ought to write “Death and Dying for Dummies” as there is no handbook for this sort of thing. My advice is that we spend so much time figuring out how to live life to the fullest, we ought to give our death a little bit of attention, and in doing so, life becomes so much sweeter.
Thank you all for dropping by and indulging me. What do you worry about the most when you think of your last days? I’d like to hear from you, as the more we feel comfortable talking about, I do believe we will be better off as a community.