Last week we introduced the idea of “fighting” or “embracing” death. We examined the definitions of death and dying, as well as the scientific, pharmaceutical, technological, TV-Hollywood, and musical contributions to our stereotypes. Now, let’s look at some of the remaining sources of death stereotypes, and read the author’s compelling personal story led to his present approach to life and death.
Society and public education have been silent contributors to our “fight” or “embrace” mentality, causing confusion and a general lack of knowledge about death and dying. Enter Grim Reaper please.
We can abhor mass violence, yet promote its human characterization on October 31st. A death from any terrible disease such as cancer is viewed as a “tragedy” if the victim is young or middle aged or, as a “blessing” if the person has lived a long, full life and is relieved of pain.
The failure of public education to coalesce around and teach one healthy view of death is obvious. Past the simple definition of death as a mere fact of promiscuous behavior taught in health class, there is no public school curriculum at any level dedicated to the understanding and handling of death and dying in this country. In many schools, death, dying, and violence are treated as one topic, and taboo until it happens as a national trauma or disaster where the learning is relegated to the college of public opinion, sensationalizing of the event for TV ratings. To illustrate the point, the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting of December, 2012, did much to fuel the debate over gun control and background checks while doing nothing to remove the taboo on death and dying discussions as part school curriculum. Afterwards, scores of counselors were sent in to perform triage as the nation, including this writer, prayed for the families of the victims and the souls of their beloved. Since that horrible day, the school building has been completely demolished as of January 2, 2014, at a cost of $1.4 million to avoid the painful reminder.
We shelter our children from seeing a parent die when maybe it would be better to allow their dying to set the example for future generations. Who can forget Farrah Fawcett for her brave live performance of her own dying and death. Bless you America’s sweetheart; you did us well even despite some media protests.
So, where were my views formed on death? Sadly, at 7 years of age my grandmother went to pick up an old maids card from the floor (one that I could have gotten for her) and never got up again. She turned blue and died right there. I turned within to punish myself, as there wasn’t counseling for kids who had witnessed death back then. Later, my views were changed to the “fight” mentality taught by the military and “the street” (which teaches nothing worth repeating here). Finally, my perspective has come around to the “embrace” mentality, formed as I watched my parents handle death very differently.
In my case, my father (a 70 year-old WWII and Korean War bombardier, lead navigator of heavy bombers, and eight time winner of the Distinguished Flying Cross) said to me during care-giving one day, “I have to give it one last shot”. He chose the “fight” option. After two rounds of chemo-therapy, he opted for six radiation treatments over two weeks which left two inch circular burns down his spine followed by severe exhaustion immediately after each session; and never killed the radical carcinoma cells.
In contrast, my mother (a 79 year-old, mother of three) didn’t want the valve of a pig placed in her heart, a surgery which carried a 50/50 %chance of dying on the table. Instead, she chose Palliative care, Hospice, and sensible drug therapy. The results were stunning. My father extended life by about twenty-two days, most of which were spent in a groggy state of mind with little energy to speak to anyone. My mother spent what I considered to be the best four years of her life, free of the burden of decision, and with ample time to prepare for her death. Both were brave in their own way, but only my mother had adequate time for last words, last “I love you’s”, tidying up her will, and final “good-byes”. It was then I decided the best way to fight death was to grab hold of a healthier lifestyle while I’m living, mend the relationships now, and embrace the moment when death comes.
So tell me about your feelings? Are you a fighter or an embracer? Do you understand all of the influences behind your mental stereotypes and choices? Remember, it’s your choice. Make it wisely, and live it now while you can! We want to hear from you!
Thomas Lorenz has a Master’s Degree in Gerontology, Management of Aging Services from the University of Massachusetts, Boston. He is a passionate writer for many aging issues blogs on LinkedIn, and owner of www.behome4ever.com which is the website for his company dedicated to keeping seniors in their homes. Tom enjoys assessing homes and writing home modification recommendation plans for safety, age in place, disability, frailty, sensory impairment, dementia, and designing care transition plans, technology assistance plans, and EMS response plans for seniors and adult children in distress from complicated health and social systems. He was a part time care giver for both parents and was moved by his care giving experiences to retire early from public education where he taught mathematics to devote his life to developing solutions for seniors and their adult children. Tom is also a retired Base Electronics Systems Engineering Planner where he worked on the U.S. Navy program popularized by the movie “Hunt for Red October”. Please see his website to contact Tom directly.
|Our Book: It's OK to Die|
"It's OK to Die" is a ground-breaking book filled with graphic stories straight out of the Emergency Room illustrating how most Americans are completely unprepared for death and dying. In response, the authors have created a unique and comprehensive guide urging EVERYONE to prepare in advance, to assure their own peace and to prevent the suffering of their loved ones.