Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Life and Death

I'm going deep today. The taboo subject of death has been on my mind a lot lately. Seems like we have had more than our share of friends  and acquaintances either die or are in the process of dying and it has consumed a good share of my waking moments.  While I'd much rather talk about life, the topic of death was something I could never talk about before I worked at hospice. My mom died suddenly and unexpectedly in her sleep back in 2001. It was shocking and hard and we got through it. It wasn't until I worked at hospice that I really understood how taboo the subject is in this country. Other places in the world treat death differently. I have not studied it much but I find it interesting. Hospice puts all their new employees through rigorous training and I remember how exhausted I was while going through it. The first time I received an email about one of our clients "dying", the word death really shook me. I've since learned that our whole culture doesn't like to use the word "died". We prefer to soften it up by saying, "oh, she passed away" or "he's no longer with us" or "they've gone to heaven".

The truth is, the moment we are born we are on a path to death.  It gets more and more important to me as the clock is ticking to make the most of my life before that happens.  And, it will happen. Life and death.  I'm hoping mine is a long life until then but I definitely feel like I don't have as much time to waste as I used to.  

I did a little free-thinking this morning around the word "life" and this is what I came up with:

ups & downs
new people
new places

When I tried the same exercise for the word "death", I came up short:
financial insecurity

When I worked at hospice, I read everything I could get my hands on about the process of dying and how to spend time with someone who is dying.  Reading about it and experiencing it are two different things.  We recently spent a small amount of time with a friend who is in the final dying process by way of lung cancer.  It was surprisingly uncomfortable and awkward.  As we drove away, I felt ashamed  and guilty because all I could think about was how I felt.  All the things I learned when I worked at hospice were somewhere else in my brain and I didn't have time to think about it before our visit.  If I could go back in time, I would do that visit over and I would hold his hand, and I'd tell him how much we love him and what a good friend he has been to Gene and I over the years.  But I didn't say those things.  I'm guessing the reason is I really don't want to believe he's dying and I didn't want to make him feel bad.

One of the most comforting things I read while I worked at hospice was that while visiting someone who is dying, sometimes we don't know what to say and the best we can do is provide a warm silence. I'm afraid I fell short in this instance. 

love, susan 


  1. I think about death a lot, especially since my heart episode last April. On top of that I am approaching the age "era" where folks DO die...I don't think I'm afraid to die, but I'm definitely terrified of the process of dying. If I were dying I would want others to tell me how I had impacted their lives...for good or not...because I believe what we most fear is that we will be forgotten. Like we never existed. I am so glad that you posted this subject because in my ageing process I'm not facing this prospect very well. Thank you, dear Susan.

  2. Very thought provoking. I learned not to fear death so much watching my mom go through it. She faced it with so much dignity and grace. And fearlessness. It was life changing for me.

  3. You bring me back to my mother and her last days Sue. It is never too late to talk. I know I did when she was in the hospital and I am glad I did. I said all the things I wanted to say earlier and wish I had said earlier. Never hold back thinking it will be sad. To say you are a dear friend and you love them is cherished by the one leaving us. They need to hear it as much as you need to say it.

  4. I lost both my parents (my dad in 1996, and my mom in 2006) from cancer. Their deaths were slow and painful, which was traumatizing for me to witness. However, it also afforded me the opportunity to spend quality time with them, and to tell them how much I loved them, and how wonderful they were as parents. My mother enjoyed it when I'd tell her the things I remembered as a child - things that she and I did together.

    By the time they died, I was ready for them to go, as their suffering was so horrible and I just wanted them to be pain free. But at the same time, I didn't want to have them gone forever.

    I personally am not afraid of death, but I am a little scared of the transition. I don't want to die as my parents did, having the life sucked out of me by some horrid disease. I suppose there's really no good way to die, unless you happen to go in your sleep, as your mother did (unless there were signs of suffering). I'm sorry for your loss, Susan.

    I have no regrets about the way I spent my parents' remaining days with them. I feel that all that needed to be said, was.

    I don't believe that once a person dies, that they are forever gone. I do believe their energy continues on, and they remain with us in some capacity. I used to feel my father around me constantly, but when my mother died, he seemed to move off to the fringes of my subconscious, and she is front and center. I still converse with my mother - out loud as well as silently - and I believe she hears me. If there's anything that comforts me about dying, it's that many loved ones will be waiting for me I get to the "other side".

  5. Thank you, everyone, for your honest and most thoughtful comments. Ironically, we learned late yesterday another long-time friend of ours died over in Hillsboro. She was in her 80's and a real joy to everyone who knew her.

    I will take everything each of you has said and incorporate it into my life.


Catching Up: A July Life List

It has been a whirlwind couple of weeks. We were in Alaska last week for 8 days and before that I can't even tell you what happened.  T...