Deathly Afraid

by Chris de Serres

Previously I posted about the Showtime series Time of Death, where cameras document the last days of people like you and me.  The fourth episode highlighted just how different death can be experienced.  One experience brought family and friends closer.  The other unraveled everything.  Maria was a mother of two teenage kids, who just couldn’t seem to find any peace before passing.  From the abusive ex-husband sending hate-filled text messages to her kids stealing her medication and arguing maliciously with her, I felt sad that her last days were degraded to that.  Death was truly where she found peace.  That was real life.  Not even the profoundness of impending death could rise above the dysfunction in her life.

Her daughter said that Maria “was always holding off on things” and avoiding the hard decisions she had to make about her life, her kids, and those around her.  So she died in the middle of the chaos.  With her kids sent to foster care and her ex-husband expressing his desire for her to just die already.

Not everybody gets to prepare for death.  Sometimes it just happens without warning.  Yet, even if you do have time it may not matter.  Trying to control the circumstances of your passing may be an illusion not worth pursuing.  We spend so much time and energy in life trying to control aspects of our existence.  Is death the final letting go of it?

It seems so morbid in western culture to prepare ourselves well in advance.  Many cultures and spiritual faiths acknowledge and accept death openly and readily, in a way that is strangely foreign to Americans.

Maria’s “holding off” seems to be how we approach death.  Other than making a will later in life, what do we really do to prepare ourselves?  I wonder if Maria’s passing wouldn’t have been different if death was seen in this culture from birth onward.

We skirt around this notion of choosing one’s time to die.  The press around Dr. Kevorkian years ago forced us to look at it.  Yet Kevorkian is such an outlier in this culture.  He did what he did and society folded assisted suicide nicely back into the pocketbook of intentional forgetting.

I don’t know my approach to death but this machine-assisted prolonging of pain strikes me personally as tortuous.  The notion that we must wait for our period of “active dying” just seems like a huge intrusion on personal choice.  The mantra that kept running in my head was “I don’t want to die that way.”  I don’t.  If given a choice.  If I knew my time was close.

My other thought was to the misery and animosity we create for those we leave behind, especially the children.  All of the resentment and sibling anger plays out so often when parents don’t plan ahead.  Whatever we leave behind often becomes the war zone to fight out issues having nothing to do with material items.  There are things we could do ahead of time to spare our loved one’s.  To allow a situation where the only thing they need to do is grieve and move on.

Chaos will be the rule though, as long as our culture remains deathly afraid of death.