Wednesday, April 23, 2014

We need to talk more about death

Not sure what it is, but I've spent a lot of this week pondering mortality.

It started with me picking up John Green's excellent novel "The Fault in our Stars". I binge read most of it last night after work. It's an amazing work and I can't recommend it enough. For a book about two terminally ill teenagers it's incredibly funny... and sad... and wise... and real... just do it. 

On top of this, my friend Flora called. She's supposed to be coming down to Melbourne in June for a visit and a play. She then says that she's not booking tickets to travel just yet as her husband's father has been diagnosed with cancer and her grandmother might die. 

I will get to this one shortly.

The last thing I'll mention is a conversation I had with Jonella.

Lots of talking about death.

We should do more of it.

I'm forever grateful for being a part of a family that talks about and celebrates life and death very openly. Being a part of a family that has Gallipoli and Western Front veterans, doctors, nurses, midwives and clergy, the family have been on the forefront of the hatches, matches and dispatches that go on in everybody's lives for well over a century. Spending most of my formative years on a farm also helped. Life and death are there laid out for you to see daily.

Everybody dies. It's a part of life. If you can shrug this mortal coil with a bit of dignity, even better (we won't mention Uncle Bert who died on the loo) Death is sad, and awful and very final. But it is a part of life.

It's something that we as a society don't discuss often enough.

My parents, bless them, have had the talk with we three girls. Things are very clear for us. We know their wishes. If anything is to happen to them, unless they can be restored to a level of health where they will have a decent quality of life, we are to turn off any machines. If there are any viable organs, they may be taken for transplant. We are under no circumstances to allow them to linger on machines or live the lives of warm cabbage stew. 

This is written and signed in legally binding documents.

As as hard as it may be to turn off those machines if an when the time comes, my sisters and I know exactly where things stand - taking a hell of a lot of pressure off us. We've discussed it among ourselves - and we're all happy and accepting of their wishes.

How many people get the luxury of knowing what their folks want when they pass?

How do people know if they don't talk about it?

It was also quite refreshing to see the following article in The Age today: The High Cost of Holding On discusses how more and more elderly people are being kept alive in Intensive Care beds and how maybe we should look at how we treat the elderly. I'm not advocating an age limit to intensive care beds at all, but a rational look at the fact that if somebody will have no quality of life after treatment let them go.

Reminds me of a friend relating the story of her 95-year-old mother-in-law. The family were adamant that she should be treated, despite having been through years of dementia, despite her advanced years. 

They would not let her go. 

I remember sitting with this friend and saying to her gently,"Everybody has to die. Why not let her go?"

My friend couldn't quiet understand that this final dying process process can take days and sometimes weeks. The family were expecting modern medicine to keep her alive. But why?

It's only the lucky one who get off really quickly. The ones who fall asleep in their beds not to wake up, or nod off on the loo.

The leads me to Flora, postponing making travel plans. She feels if she books her tickets that she's 1) dishonoring her father-in-law and grandmother and 2) it may make her unavailable to go to either funeral.

Hmmm. My view on this - neither are dying or dead yet. If they are looking like passing, rearrange the trip. The trip is scheduled for two months away. Lots can happen in that time. Airline tickets can be moved if required. Life come first. If she has to move things, move them.

Unless the person is your partner or somebody you're very close to, life come first. Always. (Another thing instilled into me by the folks) There is no point planning around things you have absolutely no control over.

These are Flora's decisions. I can't say I understand her actions, but I accept them. Our views differ. It's the way it is.

The last thing I found interesting was a talk with Jonella, where somehow, we got talking about funerals - something that came out of Jonella finding out about an acquaintances passing on Facebook .

I mentioned to her that I had some pretty specific instructions about what was to happen to me. I also thought about people making things known on social media. When it's done sensitively, it can be a great way to get the message out. 

We're not a society that does death notices in the paper any more.

In some circumstances, especially after known long illnesses, social media can bring some comfort to the grieving.

"Your family talk about this?" she asked.
"Yes. I live interstate from my family. My family don't know my friends. There are people in England who I'd like to let know. Facebook is a reasonable way to let some people know. There are one or two I'd like to leave messages for however."

"Well if you're going to do that, you should get thinking about your will."
"Yes." I agreed.
"Well get thinking now. I'd like to be buried. It's a cultural thing. That's as far as I've got." she told me.

"I have thought about it. I want to be cremated. If there are any viable organs in me, take them. I wont need them.  My sister is aware that I don't want to linger on a ventilator - like my folks, if there is no chance of a quality of life, let me go. This has been discussed."

Also, I do not, under any circumstances, want to end up in the wall where my dad's ashes lie. If anything, split my ashes in four. Deposit some outside of Ely Cathedral, some on Elia Beach on Mykonos, some others outside the old synagogue looking over the river in Toledo Spain and the rest can be scattered on top of Sellicks Hill. I've always thought that would be a great place to get married or have your ashes scattered. Get to watch the weather and the waves."

"You've really thought about this."

"Yep. Oh and music, no church music, not Andrea Bocelli, no mournful stuff. I'd really love for Green Day's "Good Riddance" to be played."

"You can't play Green Day at a funeral."

"Yes you can."

My point, I think, is that as a society, we really need to talk more about death. It's something that's going to happen to all of us some day. You may as well have a say about what you want.

And I still stand by my thought that this is a very appropriate song for a funeral.

1 comment:

Elephant's Child said...

An eminently suitable song for a funeral.
And yes, we do indeed need to learn to talk about death. And to recognise its place.
Snap on the don't keep me alive for life's sake. I want a life - NOT an existence.