My Recovery Network has recently dealt with the death of a dear friend. He graduated from the program the only way one can, by passing on into the next stage of existence clean and sober.The unfortunate truth of a life of sobriety is that you will hear of, know and love many people, friends and loved ones who pass away. More than those who are not in the program. This is just the nature of this disease. Some will die from natural causes, some will die from other diseases like cancer, but many of them will lose the battle to Drugs and Alcohol.The fortunate part about Recovery and working a good program is that we develop a huge network of close, real friends that we can lean on. We can help each other through the grief. In active addiction it would have been an excuse to drink and use more. In Recovery it is a teachable moment that shows us in times of trial and heart ache we need to use the tools we have been taught. We must work our program. We must do these things so that we may be of help to other suffering addicts and alcoholics.The hardest part for me when faced with death is the finality of the fact that I know I will never see or talk to that person again. I know they are in a better place. I have personal grief, but more importantly I grieve for the families.
I have been looking at old graphics lately and many showed relatively peaceful, beautiful death. I were thinking of the misrepresentation and then I realised that many would be accurate images and that the ugliness today often resulted from a) the sterility and formality and overcrowded environment of ICU b) the ludicrous and ugly procedures that extend the hours of ” life”. Lynne.
When I worked briefly as a Buddhist chaplain in a Medical ICU I was shocked by the suffering I watched every day as families anguished over what to do next. There are no words to adequately describe an ICU death. It is most often preceded by medical interventions that are barbaric – machines, wires, drugs, and pumps sustain a body until bereft family members can find a way to stop the aggressive medical treatment and let nature take its course, often feeling like they are committing a crime rather than releasing someone from prison. The ICU is no place for siblings or children to have conversations about what a parent or loved one would have wanted at this point. It’s like trying to teach a drowning man to swim. The die is cast.What if families talked about end of life care over dinner? What if priests and rabbis and pastors fostered values-based “upstream” conversations not just about how we want to live but how we want to die, knowing they are intimately connected? What if it was not taboo to talk about the kind of treatment you want – or don’t want – before you die? How can we help families, neighbors, faith communities and clinicians to stop being fearful, maybe stop wasting time watching television or shopping and turn attention to the most important event that we will all inevitably face?
T.S. Eliot (1888–1965). The Waste Land. 1922.And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief, And the dry stone no sound of water. Only There is shadow under this red rock, (Come in under the shadow of this red rock), And I will show you something different from either Your shadow at morning striding behind you Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you; I will show you fear in a handful of dust.
“Each day, we wake slightly altered, and the person we were yesterday is dead,” John Updike wrote, “so why … be afraid of death, when death comes all the time?” Half a millennium earlier, Montaigne posed the same question somewhat differently in his magnificent meditation on death and the art of living: “To lament that we shall not be alive a hundred years hence, is the same folly as to be sorry we were not alive a hundred years ago.”Yet mortality continues to petrify us — our own, and perhaps even more so that of our loved ones. And if the adult consciousness is so thoroughly unsettled by the notion of death, despite intellectually recognizing it as a necessary and inevitable part of life, how is the child consciousness to settle into comprehension and comfort?Now comes a fine addition to the most intelligent and imaginative children’s books about making sense of death — the crowning jewel of them all, even, and not only because it bears what might be the most beautiful children’s book title ever conceived: Cry, Heart, But Never Break (public library) by beloved Danish children’s book author Glenn Ringtved and illustrator Charlotte Pardi, translated into English by Robert Moulthrop.Although Ringtved is celebrated for his humorous and mischievous stories, this contemplative tale sprang from the depths of his own experience — when his mother was dying and he struggled to explain what was happening to his young children, she offered some words of comfort: “Cry, Heart, but never break.” It was the grandmother’s way of assuring the children that the profound sadness of loss is to be allowed rather than resisted, then folded into the wholeness of life, which continues to unfold. (I’m reminded of Maria Kalman’s unforgettable words: “When Tibor died, the world came to an end. And the world did not come to an end. That is something you learn.”)
That’s not how it should be, says Jenkinson. Instead, he advocates an attitude to life and death that emphasises the poetic rather than pragmatic, and encourages a degree of wonder and gratitude for the life we have been given.’You’ve been mid-wifed unto your later years by a strange and turbulent and at times achingly gorgeous proposition called “still alive”,’ he says.’Dying is a human-scaled mystery and one thing that surely can be said about mysteries is that the more you learn about them, the more mysterious they become. Learning about mystery deepens it. It doesn’t resolve it so you can go on to the next speed bump of mystery on the highway of your days.’
seventy-five.That’s how long I want to live: 75 years.This preference drives my daughters crazy. It drives my brothers crazy. My loving friends think I am crazy. They think that I can’t mean what I say; that I haven’t thought clearly about this, because there is so much in the world to see and do. To convince me of my errors, they enumerate the myriad people I know who are over 75 and doing quite well. They are certain that as I get closer to 75, I will push the desired age back to 80, then 85, maybe even 90.I am sure of my position. Doubtless, death is a loss. It deprives us of experiences and milestones, of time spent with our spouse and children. In short, it deprives us of all the things we value.
There’s a patient at the hospice who makes me feel uncomfortable.Henry is 76 years old, and has pancreatic cancer. He came to us from hospital, with a haemoglobin of 52. He feels a bit washed out, as you might expect. But he doesn’t want us to do anything.Here at the hospice, a patient like Henry might have a blood transfusion to help with his symptoms, and we could support him to get back home. I’ve challenged my own misconception during this rotation: that when we hand out ‘palliative’ label, we nudge a patient into a stream of medicine where all intervention is withdrawn.
A lot will change.
The world will be busy.
On the day I die, all the important appointments I made will be left unattended.
The many plans I had yet to complete will remain forever undone.
The calendar that ruled so many of my days will now be irrelevant to me.
In the old days, she would be propped up on a comfy pillow, in fresh cleaned sheets under the corner window where she would in days gone past watch her children play. Soup would boil on the stove just in case she felt like a sip or two. Perhaps the radio softly played Al Jolson or Glenn Miller, flowers sat on the nightstand, and family quietly came and went. These were her last days. Spent with familiar sounds, in a familiar room, with familiar smells that gave her a final chance to summon memories that will help carry her away. She might have offered a hint of a smile or a soft squeeze of the hand but it was all right if she didn’t. She lost her own words to tell us that it’s OK to just let her die, but she trusted us to be her voice and we took that trust to heart.You see, that’s how she used to die. We saw our elderly different then.