Certain subjects are taboo, or so I thought. However, over the past decade or so, there has been very little that has been off-limits. Menopause was the latest taboo subject and is now discussed openly, written about everywhere; even podcasts are devoted to this subject. Of course, discussing sex is a given; I am not sure when the preferred age is, but I understand that the government have been considering sex education beginning at the tender age of 5 yrs. When I was young, my mother didn’t mention sex, so I only found out about it in Biology and other girls who had a more modern thinking mother. However, there is one topic that is still never discussed, and it’s the one we all do…….DEATH.
Of course, we discuss briefly when someone has died, how they passed, but of course, it would be inappropriate to discuss this subject any more than that. You can hardly ask someone how it went. If you have never been with someone when they actually died, it can be something that fills you with fear.
This last couple of weeks, we have been collaborating with Age Space (an online resource for carers) on a giveaway of ten books on caring for the elderly, and some have even been about death and dying. Click HERE if you want to read a synopsis of each of these books. It got me thinking. Yes, even at the age of 62 yrs, I do sometimes think about my own death.
So when I was driving with a girlfriend, I mentioned this giveaway, and I asked her if she ever thought about her own death, which hopefully is a long way off. My girlfriend reassured me that she too wakes occasionally at 2 a.m. and worries about it. And so began a long and comforting discussion about death and what actually scares us. We carried this conversation on with two other girlfriends later in the week. We were each able to relate what really frightened us, which in the main was that we wouldn’t be on our own. Of course, we all want to slip away in our sleep, but modern medicine, for all its benefits, has meant that many of us will not go peacefully, and as one girlfriend put it, “medicine may well prolong our life long past our natural sell-by date.”
These last 18 months, with Covid-19, obviously, there has been a lot of focus on death, and that may have made me think more about it than usual. Hearing stories of how people could not be with their loved ones when they passed and how much it would have meant to them to hold their hand in those final moments. I was with my mother when she died; however, I am not sure how much comfort it brought to her but it made me feel better that she was feeling a human touch until her last breath. We are tactile creatures, as proven when we were no longer allowed to hug, which most people really missed during this pandemic. Human contact is essential to life or at least to a good life.
Do you remember the stories of those Romanian orphans who had been left in cots and subjected to institutionalised neglect? Because of the neglect the children suffered, many grew up with physical and mental delays. Even after being adopted, children had problems forming attachments to their new parents.
We have lived a life full of love and enjoyed much physical human contact for most of us. So letting go of a loved one can be extremely painful and perhaps something we may never get over. For this reason, it is comforting to see a loved one pass peacefully. I am sure in most cases that will be the way, i.e. we will slip away peacefully. However, I was reassured that my friends were keen to talk about death amongst themselves and admit how scared they were. Is it a fear of the unknown? If you do not have a strong religious belief, you probably do not believe in the after-life or reincarnation. So you are stuck with this fear. I suppose that is why people are always saying that this life is not a dress rehearsal. We have to live each day like it is our last.
This leads me on to the struggle that we often have when we hear a close friend has been told they are terminally ill. We may not know what to say to them, and so we may not see them as often as they would wish. Would it be appropriate to ask them what they wanted i.e. did they want to talk about it or did they want us to treat them as if life was normal and going to continue?
There have been many wonderful articles and books written about dying. There have even been podcasts hosted by people facing death; however, of course, they all end before the actual moment of death. Naturally no one has come back to tell us what it was like post-death. That’s the bit that frightens us. Whilst we are alive, we cling to life. We may make jokes like, take me to the vet, give me a pill, but that is all about suffering. None of us wants to suffer before we die. However, the bit that is really out of our control is the moment of death. How we die is the one thing we cannot control unless we commit suicide.
There is much discussion about assisted dying for those who do not have any quality of life. Is it our right to decide when and how we die? That is a discussion for another time. However, the assisted dying clinic in Switzerland is called Dignitas, which is a clue to one of our fears of death. We do not want to lose our dignity, again, all part of our control over life. There are some things in our lives that we want to keep private, and for many, that may mean the moment of death.
My sister-in-law was young when she died of cancer. We were all gathered around her, said our goodbyes, but she appeared to cling to life. So the nurse said maybe she wants to do it alone, and she suggested we all left the room. Of course, the nurse was right, and my sister-in-law then slipped away.
When the moment comes, none of us knows how we will face it. That is probably why we don’t talk about it beforehand. However, if we can open up the conversation for those that want to take part, it may make it easier. Telling your loved ones your fears can be a great comfort. For example, my fear of growing old is becoming a burden to my children. I don’t want them to feel it is a chore to be with me when I am on my own. However, I am sure that is how it will inevitably be, as it probably won’t be my choice. And at the end……well, who knows? My mind will be kicking and screaming and not wanting to leave. However, my body will probably want to slip away and have a long rest after this exhausting and fun life.
I hope that this article does not offend anyone as it is not meant to do that. It is just meant to get the conversation going. I hope that we can then take death off the ever-shortening list of taboo subjects.
This week we also have an article on a conversation we had with the founder of AgeSpace. We chatted about caring for the elderly, how to get things organised with some great tips. Please click HERE to read it.
Photo of woman with yellow background courtesy of Karlyukav/Freepik