Available March 15th, 2013!
It is clear that most all of us understand that we will die. We just don’t expect it to happen in our lifetimes.
When someone asks me at a social gathering what I do, and I explain that I talk about death and dying, my interlocutor, after exclaiming, “How interesting!” usually turns the conversation elsewhere or, alternatively, just turns himself elsewhere. Why discuss dying when we can talk sports, politics, fashion, food, travel…anything more immediately rewarding. I am not adverse to a bit of gossiping nor do I mind bragging about my kids and grandkids, and I am full of opinions about what’s happening in the news. I certainly don’t think death should be the subject at a party nor do I insist on bringing my obsession to most conversations with friends and colleagues. But here is what I want to say:
Look, denial is fine. It is normal to deny death. We are wired that way. But just, for a little bit, step outside of denial, get your paperwork in order, think about the options that face us, think about the fact that each of us will, in time, die. Talk with the people who are important to you. Get your hands around death and dying and then, if you wish, step right back into denial.
We will die. There is no escape. We may not be thinking about death but death is thinking about us. The best of us die and the worst of us, too. When we die is not dependent on our vices or virtues. Life is not fair, it just is. Belief in a higher power can give us a sense of calm, of being cared for, but it cannot tell us what awaits us in life. If, you might ask, if the end of life is inevitable, outside of our control, why give it a thought? Why not leave it in the hands of god or fate or chance?
Neither gods nor fate can write your will or sign your health care proxy. They cannot answer for your children the questions you did not want to answer. And, evidence suggests, they are not so good as we might imagine at reducing stress and chaos in the midst of a health care crisis. Perhaps their domain is in the hereafter…but we have to get past death and dying to understand that. The here demands some attention from us.
Listening to so many stories of difficulty and even disaster surrounding deaths of friends and family that could have been ameliorated with a little planning, I’ve turned into a missionary. The more I study and learn, the more I want to talk. I wish I could program this book onto everyone’s car radio. You could listen for free, but it wouldn’t stop playing until you completed the end- of-life paperwork, talked to your family and given some thought to how you will make end-of-life decisions. Once you have done this, this radio program shuts off and you can go right back to news, music sports and denial if you want.