April 17, 2013

CULTURE: On Death and Dying

I was speaking today with Johanne, a woman who is making funeral arrangements for a friend and colleague. Her eyes were puffy from crying, her body slumped in discouragement. She had received a call last night from the daughter of the deceased. She had never met this man's daughter, and was shocked and dismayed at the turn the conversation took.

The daughter had only two questions. Did he leave a will? When is the funeral? She was cold and abrupt, to the point of being rude, leaving Johanne shocked and shaking. She had been prepared to have a long conversation with this man's daughter, who had not shown up during the months he was ill, had not visited him in the hospital.

In fact, it was Johanne who insisted on taking him to the hospital when he said he wasn't feeling well, who was with him throughout his ordeal, who stayed and held his hand when the doctors said he wouldn't make it through the night. Being a caring, compassionate person, Johanne just assumed that the daughter would want to know the details of her father's last days on earth, would be seeking solace, and might even be grateful that someone had been around for her father. But no - the daughter is obviously an angry and extremely unhappy person who is perfectly at ease with passing her anger and bad will onto a complete stranger.

On the heels of all the bad behaviour swirling around Margaret Thatcher's death - people who thought it was perfectly OK to air their bitchy grievances about her politics at the time of her passing - this got me thinking about our society's response to death and dying. When did we start being so callous and uncaring? When did death become an excuse for bad manners?

I think we need an anger intervention. Rule #1: If you're angry, chances are you're the one who screwed up. Anger is usually a sign that we are disappointed in ourselves (or our choices), and when we direct it outwards, we're making excuses and blaming others. Rule #2: It's not OK to spread your anger around like a virus, and if you think it is, you should be in therapy. Rule #3: When someone dies, respect it with silence, regardless of your opinion of the person or his/her life. Think of someone you love dying (it's a horrible thought, but it will happen, death is inevitable), and try to imagine how it would feel if people chose that moment to disrespect and insult them, or to continue their angry tirade against them. Remember that everyone is someone's mother, father, son or daughter.

"Death is not the greatest loss in life.
The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live."
Norman Cousins 

April 17, 2013

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