(And now that the Modo Adventure has come to it’s happy conclusion I return to the Random Tips About Dying series. This post is continued from Random Hot Tip About Dying #2.)
The third tip goes something like this:
3) Learn about dying from people who are familiar and comfortable with it. The terrified can’t teach you much you don’t already know.
One evening I went to a restaurant with a convivial group of people to hang out after a community meeting. There were about nine of us, all adults except for one young adolescent girl who accompanied her mom.
During the free-for-all discussion that rolled around the table over dessert the young girl, a devoted animal lover, shared with shining eyes that she wanted to start volunteering with the local Humane Society. But before she could even finish the sentence her mother torpedoed the idea by telling her, “But honey you don’t understand. They put animals down there.”
I listened to the murmur of assent rising from everyone else at the table and watched the girl’s shining eyes grow stormy as one person after another tried to explain (in the kindest way) that she didn’t know what she was getting into and that, really, she wanted to stay as far away from that kind of thing as possible.
She tried to argue but no one would listen. As a group they were convinced that their deep aversion was in fact the wise and correct response. In the meantime I was sitting there having vivid flashbacks of the same kind of reaction I received from people when I first shared that I wanted to work with hospice.
Initially, the girl was just frustrated but then I saw a kind of helplessness start to settle in as she felt the door closing on her dream of caring for vulnerable animals. We could all see that she felt a calling deep down in that place where we get those kinds of messages, but nonetheless every set of arms present was trying to hold her back from answering it. Her shoulders finally sagged as she fell into angry silence.
I heard somebody explaining that the animals are just going to die anyway, and then there was a momentary lull as everyone nodded their heads and gazed at the girl in sympathy.
I finally spoke up.
“But, you guys,” I looked around the table as every head swung my way. “They still need love before they die. Even more so.”
I watched as each face registered first surprise, then a dawning thoughtfulness as they considered this other perspective. In the meantime, the girl looked like a wilting flower that had just been watered.
She sat back up, smiled, and said, “Yeah. YEAH! That’s what I mean, that’s what I wanna do! I’m not afraid of them dying.”
She waxed on with renewed enthusiasm for about a minute as everybody else sat and digested the idea. Then one of the men turned towards me with a puzzled smile and said, “I never thought of it like that but it’s really true. Why didn’t I think of that before?”
Which leads me back to tip #3. This story is a prime example of what a closed loop looks like. Everyone sitting at that table believed the same thing: that dying was something repugnant and horrible to be avoided at all costs, even if it meant abandoning a group of vulnerable animals and thwarting a young girl’s dream in the process. And because they all believed it, all they could do is reinforce and confirm each other’s belief.
Please understand, it’s not that they didn’t care about all those dogs and cats at the shelter. They did, a lot. Boise is a powerful animal advocacy town and the adoption rates are actually higher here than most of the country. We love our four-footed friends around here, we really do.
But in this case, the group’s fear of dying outweighed their love for animals for the simple reason that they’d never been presented with a different perspective from someone who didn’t believe that dying is repugnant and horrible and to be avoided at all costs. Granted people like that are a minority in the population right now, but there are more of us than you’d think and the numbers are growing. Finding someone who’s familiar and comfortable with dying isn’t nearly as hard as it used to be.
I should add that this story is a prime example of something else that bears noting: There’s a pernicious subconscious assumption permeating our cultural view that anything dying is already as good as dead. This one drives me nuts. It’s not true. NOT TRUE.
NOT. TRUE. AT. ALL.
Dying animals and people are still very, very, very much alive and, more than almost any other time of life, they need to be gathered in, supported, nourished, and loved…NOT abandoned. (That is, of course, unless they want to crawl off into the bushes and die alone in which case I’m all for respecting their wishes. But that’s different than abandoning them.)
In a future post I’d like to publish a list of links to posts, articles, and other resources that provide a view of dying that’s more holistic than the current, entrenched one. It’s a view that acknowledges the hardships involved but also reveals the moving and luminous beauty that involved in life at it’s last. But that will take some time to assemble so not today.
Next post should be about Random Tip #4: A “good death” is good for everyone. A “bad death” is bad for everyone. As a group we need to be shooting for a lot more good deaths than we are.
copyright Dia Osborn 2013
P.S. The photo of the adorable Doberman puppy above is from a Wikipedia article about dogs and can be found here.
P.P.S. Here are the previous posts in this series:
Five Randomly Useful Hot Tips About Dying
Random Hot Tip About Dying #1 and Follow Through
Another great post…can’t wait to learn more about a “good death”. I have heard you speak many times about it and I never get tired of hearing…and everytime, I learn something more. And thanks for doing this…for all of us.!
I don’t just “like” this, Dia. I resonate with it, especially the teenager and your intervening comment in her behalf.
Yea Dia!! I’m reading this and thinking, “Help her Dia!! Help her Dia!!” What a precious young girl!! I have been with a dear friend for the past two days as she was making her ‘transition’, surrounded by children coming and going, grandchildren kissing her, holding her hands, painting her nails, dear old friends paying their respects, story telling, songs sung, great grand children watching and then boldly approaching her bed to remind Mama D, they too loved her and would keep her memory alive with shared moments with her that made them happy. I just received the call that she has returned Home which is exactly what she kept saying, ” I’m ready to go Home.” Bless her!! And all those dear ones who kept watch with as many endearments as possible to softened her departure. Thank you Dia for bravely speaking and writing to help others know!!
Sounds like it was a beautiful passage Becki…a very good death. Exactly how I dream of going someday, you know? Great work, as always!
What a marvelous example here. I wonder if any of the adults around that table had ever had to face end of life issues with a family pet.This is something that happens earlier and more frequently (usually) than with people. My sweet-souled former hubby could not bear to be with his pets when euthanasia was due. Instead, he’d sit in the car sobbing while I had the transformative experience of holding the animal as it slipped quietly and peacefully away. I think he would have been better off in the room with me than agonizing in the car.
I know for me the experience of being there with them at the end really helps, too, but I think that may be due at least in part to our mindset going in. I know a couple people who were kind of traumatized by it. So much of a person’s response to death is shaped by their previous experience with it or, lacking that, what they’ve learned from others about it, and what that girl was learning from everyone else at the table was not particularly helpful but oh-so typical. What was amazing to me was that intuitively she sensed a different truth and was fighting against the attempted indoctrination. Her deep love for animals seemed to have been working as a powerful tool for shaping her view of death, which is fascinating and…I think…very important. Animals are such profound teachers for us, aren’t they?