Unthinkable? No, Dying Is Perfectly Thinkable.

living will

The Los Angeles Times posted an excellent article by Steve Lopez last month discussing the urgent need we all have to not only discuss our wishes with those who are likely to make them, but codify those wishes in written and legal form.  For anyone who’s been thinking about doing so but is unsure how to proceed, please take a look.  It has links to some great resources that might help.

There’s only one thing about the article I took issue with; the title.  Having To Think About The Unthinkable.  Because it reinforces the wrong but tenacious belief in our oh-so-death-averse culture that dying is an unthinkable (not to mention unspeakable) topic.

That’s just not true.  Dying is totally thinkable.  In fact, collectively, we do it all the time.  I do it.  So does everyone who works with hospice and palliative care.  So does everyone who’s currently dying, and all the people that love them.  So do elders who are fast approaching, people who get questionable results on scans, and those who experience a close call in a plane, on a highway, or in a hospital.  Anyone who follows the news is exposed to reports about dying every day, and a movie about dying called Final Destination was seen by so many people, so many times, that it spawned three sequels and made its makers hundreds of millions of dollars.

In fact, our tendency to secretly think about dying a lot is at the heart of our entire preventive health care system. No one in their right mind would consent to (much less insist on) the discomfort, indignity, potential danger, and expense of so may foreign objects poking our veins, irradiating our tissue, and probing our various holes without the thought of dying as a strong motivation.  So, no.  The idea that dying is unthinkable is a total myth.  Not only is it perfectly thinkable, there’s a respectable portion of the population secretly doing it at any given moment.

What I’d like to do is encourage everyone to think about it more openly.  Because keeping all those thoughts and fears chained naked to the floor down in your seriously clenched gut only serves to make the prospect of dying more frightening, not less.  Trust me on this one.  Dragging the monster out from under the bed where you can negotiate with it and set up some ground rules is a very, very good thing to do. 

Okay, yeah.  I’m gonna die.  You win there.  But this is how I want to do it; no tubes, no persistent vegetative states, no bankrupting the family and leaving them destitute.  However and whenever you decide do this buddy, I want to minimize my own suffering as well as the suffering of my loved ones.  This is important to me.

I think a lot of people don’t realize that death is absolutely fine with that.  Contrary to how it’s portrayed in Final Destination, death is a neutral force, not a malevolent one.  It doesn’t want us to suffer and it doesn’t care if we take steps to prevent that from happening.  It leaves full control for how we navigate the process to us.  It’s like kayaking.  We can either take time to study the river beforehand and craft an intelligent plan for those class 5 rapids with a forty-foot waterfall at the end, or we can fall into the boat backwards and wing it.

Which ride would you rather be on?

Death is like the river.  It doesn’t care about the quality of our ride, it’s only job is to sweep us downstream.  The rest is up to us.  And if we decide we’d rather do it with foresight, skill, and courage?  Then our relationship with the dying process is transformed from a catastrophe into a partnership and the gifts of that–the power, dignity, strength, love, sacrifice, generosity, and surrender it generates–remain long after we’re gone to help those we love recover and return to a full life.

Thinking and talking about dying, long before it happens, is well worth it.

Here’s a link from the article that has an excellent guide on how to have a conversation about end-of-life-care wishes with your loved ones. (You can use it as a starting point to have a conversation about it with yourself, too.)  And to download a copy of your state’s Advanced Directive, here’s a link to a website called Caring Connections which has a wealth of other information as well.

And because I mentioned kayaking, here’s the trailer for The Halo EffectIt includes some unreal footage of kayaking elite and waterfalls.  The opening narration tries to explain why these guys do what they do and is worth a listen, but if you just want kayaking footage, it starts at 1:00 into the trailer.  It’ll knock your socks off.

copyright Dia Osborn 2012