We Need To Talk About Death
American culture is a very curious thing. From a young age we are filled with ideas and knowledge that will prepare us to become super citizens. Young adulthood is about idealism, thinking that somehow we’re going to make it to the level of the elite where we make enough money to not have to worry about anything…ever. Then we get old. Then something happens and we lose our ability to care for ourselves. Then we fall off the face of the planet. Why? Because no one wants to talk about the last phase of life; death.
I can’t tell you how many deaths I have lived through in my lifetime. The odd thing is that none of them were my direct family members. No, I was a bystander, watching from the outside as families cried and crumbled to pieces over the death of a loved one. It never ceases to surprise me how unprepared we are for death. Even if the person who passed was well into their nineties, even if they have congestive heart failure, cancer or COPD…somehow people convince themselves that their loved one will not die. And then the day comes. The day starts out normal and is like every other day. You aren’t expecting the phone call, the text, or the knock at your door. The news that your loved one has passed hits you like a ghostly Mack truck. It goes right through you and leaves you feeling empty, wobbly, and unable to stand.
Then there’s the funeral. Where to start? What to do? How many of us know what our parents’ wishes are when it comes to their funeral? Do they want to be buried, cremated, scattered somewhere, or do they care? How many of us know how much it will cost to bury our loved one? Do our parents have the money to bury themselves or will we have to do it?
Death is not just about those around us. Death is about us too. How many times have you sat down and thought about your own death? Not often, I will bet. Our society makes talking or thinking about death so taboo. If you think about death you must be depressed or suicidal and who are you to be thinking such things when you’re surrounded by so many blessings? The truth is we all should take a moment and think about our own death. We should be the ones deciding what happens to our bodies once we leave this earth. We should tell someone, anyone, what our final wishes are.
Facing our own death has more to do with respect for the living. Once you die, you’re out, you’re gone, you will struggle no more. The ones that you love the most are left to pick up the pieces of their lives and patch it back together without you. They will be faced with an overwhelming amount of decisions and a crippling sense of responsibility. Families literally fall apart after the death of the patriarch or matriarch of the family. Sibling rivalry suddenly has a new meaning as fights break out over who gets what. Who takes over as "leader" of the family. Who's head does the burden of carrying on the family name fall on? It also becomes about money.
How people act after the death of a loved one is a reflection of how that person truly feels and thinks. Are they loving and supportive? Do they fall into a puddle of tears and anger and attention seeking? Grief and the anger give anyone opportunity and reason to do things that one would never anticipate they would do. They blow up on people, say everything they’ve been suppressing for years, they take things that belong to someone else, they lie and hide so they can profit from their loved one’s death. What once appeared to be a happy family turns out to be a sham. Everyone faked their love for each other all along and then when the person who matters the most is gone; so is the desire to fake the relationships.
It’s appalling and eye opening all at the same time. You see, if it is not talked about in advance, and planned accordingly, your death could truly be the undoing of the family you worked so hard to build.
The Swedish have an interesting thing that they do years before they die. It’s called “death cleaning”. Time magazine first introduced the concept to Western culture via a post that went viral: http://time.com/5063275/death-cleaning/. Although it’s morbid sounding, “death cleaning” doesn’t have as much to do with death as it does life. Death cleaning is about going through your possessions and making decisions about who gets what. The process is one of respect as it saves your loved ones a mountain of trouble that they otherwise would have to endure when you die. It allows you to enjoy giving your possessions to those you love while you’re still alive. Instead of a process of mourning, it’s a celebration of a life. At the end of the process you are left with what you need, which allows you to move on to the last chapter in life, whatever that may be.
Speaking of which, do you have plans for your last chapter? Are you going to a nursing home? Are you going to an elderly apartment complex? Are you moving in with your kids? Many people assume that their children know how to care for them when the time comes when actually they have no clue. If you plan on moving in with your kids when you’re old and unable to care for yourself…are they okay with that or do you feel as if they owe it to you? Are your children prepared to feed you, to wipe your ass, fight with you, take you on numerous doctor and hospital appointments, all while watching you change into a toddler version of the person you used to be? Are your children ready to mourn you long before you die?