Wednesday, August 13, 2008

On Death and Dying

We don't talk about it enough in this country. I'm fairly ignorant to sociology, so I don't know if other countries/cultures do, but my sense is that Americans are pretty gifted on the denial scale.

I think that it's healthy to think about, at least more than most of us do. Keeps you honest. It's good to realize that you really aren't going to be here for forever, and that you might not be here for as long as you think that you are. It also helps with the whole Carpe Diem thing, especially when we seem to be programmed to want to spend too much time on our collective arse.

If I sit and think, really think, about my own death, for 5 minutes, it changes my whole day. In some ways good, in some not so good (but I think that's probably more related to the fact that I don't do it often enough.) When your child has cancer, you're forced to think about his death. Over and over and over. Definitely changes the day.

Last week I couldn't stop thinking about it. It was as if someone was standing behind me all day long, interrupting me every 30 minutes or so to say, "You know, he still might die." This week it's down to a few times a day, allowing me to relax much more.

Strange, though. With all of the pondering on mortality and death over the last 9 months, I continue with my illusion of control. I find that if I just begin to consider the death of one of my other children, I have the same sense of utter panic and disbelief that I remember from when Henry was diagnosed. I know that the possibility of losing them has yet to enter my consciousness. Not that I'm inviting it in. But isn't it interesting to compartmentalize so much?

OK, weird post, not sure what I think about it yet. Really, I'm doing better. But last week sucked.


rlbates said...

Dr Smak, maybe it's because I was eight when I went to my dad's funeral, but I have thought about my own mortality a lot over the years. Have tried to see it from your position (a parent) so I could empathize with my mother after my brother died at 28 yo in a MVA (about 12 yr after our dad who also died in a MVA). Can't say I have succeeded, but do better than when I was younger. I(selfishly?)thought when I was younger that she had seven living children so how could she miss one so much. But I have learned through my pets (no children) that the absence of one is always felt enormously.

SOCKS said...

Very difficult post to respond to, which is indicative of our denial of mortality and uncomfortable realism of the inevitable.

The whole subject, including Henry's illness, raises our level of awareness to do what we need/want to do each day, each week, each year with a new sense of urgency and priority setting.

So much of what we fret over, spend money on and take time doing, is unimportant, unfulfilling and ungratifying.

Simplify. Avail ourselves of time and relationships and smile - - - that's what really matters.

pisceshanna said...

Americans are definitely gifted on the denial scale. I love the way you put that too. I used to say the reason I stayed in an abusive relationship for so long was because I still had "hope" but really, it was just cause I was living in denial.

Femail doc said...

You might be too young to remember the Carlos Castaneda's books about his apprenticeship with the old Yaqui Indian Don Juan. I suspect if I reread them, I'd wonder what the young me saw in them. The advice therein that revisits me occasionally is that we should carry our death on our shoulder, and sometimes I do try with an improved perspective.

To carry one's child's death on one's shoulder? Unthinkable. And yet we all worry, and some of us, like you, have the thought land there unwanted and unbidden. Very sobering, very crazy-making. And yet you must carry on the ordinary in the face of the continuing extraordinary circumstances of your changed lives. Awesome task.

Anonymous said...

We’ve all witnessed the beauty of life through the birth of children, a colorful and artful sunset, an intimate moment with a special someone, a belly-jiggling hysterical laugh, the intricacy in nature, etc. Some moments we wish to contain in boxes so that later in life we can open the boxes and relive that moment. But, with the beauty of life, we also can bear the burden of life’s challenges. How can we find solace in spaces filled with complex, conflicting thoughts and emotions?

No matter what, we are animals with instincts, intuitions, thoughts, and profound feelings. These elements of our being will always allow the “sense of utter panic and disbelief” to enter when our children, pets, or loved ones are in harm’s way. I think if you meditated on death for 30 minutes every day and focused on your death, Mr. Smak’s death, the passing of your children, etc…the sense of panic would not diminish should the ultimate occur. Life just doesn’t work that way.

Whatever the impetus…it’s okay to struggle. I’ve spent a significant amount of time contemplating death and like you, sometimes am at peace and other times not. This is your son…he’s a part of you…through good and bad, happy and sad, birth and death.

Remember after my son was born and you visited me at my work place. I was balling and probably experiencing post-partum depression. I said to you “How could I willingly create something so beautiful only to know that he will someday die?”

I don’t know the answer. I’m just glad you are moving to a kinder and more peaceful mental status…the next time that reminder starts tapping on your shoulder every 30 minutes to thrust some unnecessary reality into your world, you turn around and punch the living crap out of it.
- Sister Smak

Wading in a Velvet Sea by Phish

I took a moment from my day
Wrapped it up in things you say
Mailed it off to your address
You’ll get it pretty soon unless

The packaging begins to break
And all the points I tried to make
Are tossed with thoughts into a bin
Time leaks out my life leaks in

You won’t find moments in a box
And someone else will set your clocks
I took a moment from my day
Wrapped it up in things you say
And mailed it off to you