Sun, Feb. 23

Looking at Death One Day at a Time

Nineteen young lives gone in a flash. Men in the prime of their lives, fighting a wildfire nearby. A deep sadness hangs over our town, along with a shroud of smoke. We'll never understand why. There is no reason why. It's a tragic part of life. The end of life.

Sometimes death is a longed-for release. I've been with elderly souls who desperately want to escape their battered and aching bodies. To a person, each of them has told me, "I'm ready". Sometimes they changed their minds a few minutes - or a few days - later and asked, "Why me?" But the only answer to that question is easy, if brutal: we all die.

And while we have no means with which to prepare ourselves for the sudden onslaught of the death of many innocent souls, we can, no matter what age we are, prepare ourselves and our families, especially as we (or they) begin to near a foreseen end of life. Both my parents are gone now and I, the person the family turns to when death approaches, helped my dad and my brother prepare for Dad's death. He was deeply beloved by another family member, his constant companion for the twenty years he lived after Mom died, and she was unable to prepare herself.

Still it is my strong contention that it is an act of love for us to talk to our family, friends and others about death to help them see it, not as some totally terrifying monster, but as the natural function of our body's shutting down. Our society has removed us from the actualities of death in many cases, leaving the dying in hospitals with tubes attached and alarms going off while we commiserate in waiting rooms with bad coffee. We wait to hear what the doctor has to say rather than knowing, because we had a talk with the person who is dying before he or she got to this point, what's important to him, or her, at the end of life.

My dream is to see the discussion of death brought out of the closet before I die. I hope to see death become, as I've heard it said, "Dinner table conversation." For only when we talk about it can we hope to decrease the fear of it and lessen the pain by the sharing of concerns before they become grotesque, dreadful monsters.

A trained hospice volunteer and end of life advocate, people talk to me about death. Total strangers must see something in me as this very morning while I was having blood drawn for some lab tests, the technician expressed her deep sadness over the loss of the nineteen young fire fighters. It wasn't appropriate, but it was real, which overrides all criteria of political correctness when discussing death. We each said a few things and felt a shared sadness, and then went on with our daily lives. It didn't kill us to talk about death.

And it won't kill you either. Please bring it up. Face your fears so that others who matter to you can face theirs. Maybe by reading this blog you'll find the strength and courage to become a death advocate yourself, whether professionally or personally, so that your life can be more fulfilling and your death less horrifying. I hope so.

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