Using writing, and meditation, and ice cream, and reading, and dreams,

and a whole lot of other tools to rediscover who I am,

after six years living with a man with OCPD.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

I Want To Be On A Death Panel

Photo by artist Richard Heeks
Because after all, we're all going to die anyway.

I know, that thought makes most of us uncomfortable.  We don't know, after all, what's on The Other Side, and that's kinda scary.  Some people believe in Heaven (and Hell), some people who believe in reincarnation, some people believe in nirvana, some people believe in being gods on other planets or any number of intriguing possibilities.  And some believe that one is just gone, the consciousness dissolved into nothingness.

But despite any number of fascinating stories from people who were clinically pronounced dead and "came back"  (but were they really, truly dead?) we don't know.

What we do know, for a fact, is we're not getting out of this place alive.

Many of us live like there's an actual, physical Reaper, and if we keep running/busy/active enough, we'll be able to avoid death.  Like he's a bill collector or something.  ("Pull down the shades, turn off the light and the TV, we'll pretend we're not home.")

OCPDrs carry it to extremes, but many people are so worried about what could happen in the future, what terrible thing is lurking around the corner, about protecting against every possible calamity, they fail to enjoy any of the wonderful things that are all around them, every minute of every day.  They're too busy finding green baby galoshes - because it might rain, sometime, in Southern California, and the baby's feet might get wet, and then he might get sick, and then he might die.

They're not so much Pro-Life, as they are Anti-Death.

We have to accept that we are going to die, and we have to accept that people we love are going to die.  That pain and loss are part of the admission price to this crazy Carnival called Life.  We can deny it, we can act like martyrs, and refuse to enjoy the Carnival - as if not enjoying life will entitle us to get more of it.  Hunh?

We can fight to be Cleopatra (Queen of Denial), and live like we have all the time in the world, but we don't.  We need to think about what's on our personal Bucket Lists, our dreams, and work on making them happen.  Is your dream to see the Grand Canyon?  Eat a hot dog on Coney Island?  Watch a taping of The Price Is Right?

Like Captain Picard would say on Star Trek: TNG, "Make it so."

And as far as the death panel thing, yep, there's a whooooole bunch of people I'd pull the plug on.  I don't believe, if one is extremely ill and/or 90+ years old, or in a persistent vegetative state, that it benefits anyone to take extreme measures to keep that person "alive."  (Okay, maybe the hospitals which are making a buck benefit from the care of said "person.") 

I believe that the soul has departed long before, but let's say, just for the point of argument, that it hasn't.  Let's say that the soul and spirit is still in that poor battered shell of a human body, unable to move, wipe itself, or communicate.

Could there be any worse torture than to be trapped there helplessly for weeks, months, years, not able to get out or let people know you're still in there?  To have to watch and listen to hours on end of daytime television programming?  (Whether your preference is Fox or MSN, you know they're gonna have it tuned to the other channel.)  To perhaps be in constant pain, either severe or low-grade, but nobody does anything about it because they don't know about it, and they think there is no pain?

I truly wouldn't wish such a fate on my worst enemy, and I have promised to come back and haunt anyone who does that to me.  (And not in a nice, Casper-the-Friendly-Ghost way.)  If we want to be kind and loving, we should let the person go, allow him or her to move on to...  whatever happens next.  Unless, of course, we know for a fact that the person we are "saving" would want us to fight for every breath.  I know some people in that horrible situation, knowing it's not a kind choice, but it's what their loved one wanted, so they are reluctantly carrying out those wishes.  (I'm so sorry!)

We've come a long way, in terms of preserving the physical bodies of those who would have died, 150, even 50 years ago, but that isn't always a good thing.  As a society, I think we need to reconsider what we often do to people in the last months of their lives, all in the name of "saving" them.  Saving them for what?  More torture? 

Just because we can hook somebody up to any number of modern gizmos and keep the heart beating and the lungs artificially pumped full of air and run a tube down somebody's throat to drip nutrients, doesn't mean we should.  Is an all-out battle to "buy" someone an extra two months of extreme pain, in a hospital, away from the comfort of family and pets and loved ones, always worth it?  (One friend recounted to me at her father's death, she counted - and then recounted, because she was sure she must have made a mistake - 187 tubes and wires running into his body.  187!!)

Newsweek had an interesting article recently on The Myth of Aging Gracefully.  Because of denial, we think we'll be one of the ones who's hardy, running marathons and making love into our nineties, and then drop instantly dead of a convenient heart attack or stroke, but it doesn't always work that way.
There is a 50–50 chance that anyone who survives to blow out 85 candles will endure years of significant mental or physical disability. The risk of Alzheimer’s disease doubles in every five-year period over 65. Furthermore, two thirds of Americans older than 85 are women, who usually become poorer as they age. Many won’t die at home, with the best care money can buy, as Sargent Shriver did in January, but in a Medicaid-funded nursing facility after their life savings have been exhausted.
What about living with gusto and passion?  What about accepting that death comes one to a customer, sooner or later, and making peace with that concept?  Telling loved ones every time you talk to them, that you love them, and treating them with love and kindness now

Image via Karen's Whimsy
For myself, I have my own Advance Medical Directive all filled out - copies with my sisters, doctor, and one in the glove compartment of my car.  Not to mention my threat to haunt people.  Your choices may be different from mine, but if you don't already have your AMD filled out, do it now.  No more excuses, no more waiting, no more "I'll do it when I have time," as if you know for sure you''ll have that time.

Cleopatra, Queen of Denial, didn't come to a very nice end, after all.

What are your thoughts on life, and death? 
What are you doing to live your life fully now?
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