Thursday, 5 September 2013

How to Die

Last night, when I woke up in the middle of the night with sharp pain in my left side (because it was 3am, I thought my left lung was collapsing but after some more sleep and putting Tiger Balm on the muscles this morning, I realize it is more realistically leftover pain from sleeping on a pull-out couch for the weekend), I turned on my podcasts hoping one would lull me back to sleep.

My 3 am choice was to listen to the CBC podcast "How to Die" as part of their "How To Do It" summer series. It was very interesting but definitely not the best 3 am choice and it did not help me to get back to sleep. The three main points of the podcast was to: Prepare for your death (as in living like you know you will die); Dress for the occasion (they talked to someone who made funeral clothing); and know your audience (that one was weird, they talked to a comedian about 'dying' onstage).

I though the most interesting part was when they went to a 'Death Cafe' in Toronto where people congregate every month to talk about death and death-related issues. An 80-year old man said he can't talk to his friends about dying as they laugh it off as a joke and change the subject. The majority of the people at the cafe who they interviewed had family or friends die and they needed a safe space to bring it up. They all commented that their friends thought they were morbid or weird if they brought up the topic of death.
The reporter then commented how morbid and weird he felt at the the cafe session. I think he may have missed the greater point.

I thought it was an incredibly interesting idea for a gathering as it is true that as a society we never talk about death. We rarely see dead bodies (and then they are made to look as 'life-like' as possible) and no one really wants to talk about dying. The podcast was quite similar to a website I have been visiting ever since I heard about it through an interview on CBC (It is pretty obvious that I <3 CBC).  The women, a trained mortician, has youtube videos where she answers questions about death, dying, and the death industry in a very factual, surprisingly funny way.

When I first got really sick, I went through her entire website and I found it helped a lot to read about death in a very honest way. That might seem morbid and dark but it really helped and I'm sure the 'death cafe' really helps people as they can talk about their fears and feelings without being dismissed as weird or morbid.

The last part of the podcast was an interview with a philosopher who talked about what makes a a 'good death' versus a 'tragic death'. He says a 90-year-old's death is less tragic than a 50-year-old's death which is seen as less tragic than a 30-year-olds and so on as people die younger. Until it is infants and then a 5-year-old's death is more tragic than a 2-month-old. It is strange what we have decided as a society to be tragic or less-tragic.

The philosophers main point was to recognize that you are going to die and live accordingly but maybe don't bring it up on a first date.  I know death makes people uncomfortable and no one likes to talk about it but the more it is talked about, the less uncomfortable it will be and the more we will appreciate life.

I will leave you with his last point: "If you had a sense that your days were coming to a close relatively soon...I would love to have one last time to tell people who have been important to me over the course of my life, tell them just what it is they did for me. If that is something you would want to do at the end of your life, if you knew your life was coming to an end, than I suppose one of the morals should be don't wait." 

Brilliant advice.


Helen said...

Well Alley I think you are an amazing person and I am so very glad to know you. I love the jux position of deep death discussions and gardening. Keeping it real! I have a question about something you posted a while back, you had to do a will, giving someone the power of attorney. Anyway the questions that went around my head were the 100's of scenarios a person can be in and not want or want medical intervention? How do you decide...don't answer that. I want to know, if you are now waiting for the perfect lung to arrive because of your relative good health there is a great chance of success at what point do " you " say okay I'm too sick now I will/ will not take the next lung that comes my way....will you know when the time comes? Don't feel you need to answer me, just letting you know you got me thinking cause this could be a question for all of us really as the medical system will just keep wanting to do the next thing that they can do.

Alley said...

Thanks Helen! I also think you are an amazing person. My life has basically become the paradox of trying not to over think the meaning of life while maintaining a 'normal' life and doing 'normal activities'. It can't be all doom and gloom otherwise I would never get out of bed.

I have no idea how I will know when it is the right time to stop intense medical intervention. I guess I am just hoping that I will know when the time arrives.