Autumn is undoubtedly my favorite season. It is also a melancholy one. Harvest time is like one last great orgasm before the little death of Winter. As Samhain approaches, ancestor veneration reaches a fever pitch in the pagan community. Few, though, dare to think about the ancestors of tomorrow: us.
At this year’s ECG, guest speaker Kris Hughes challenged us to think about what we wanted from our deaths. Some three-quarters of Americans die in hospitals after long lingering illnesses.* This is quite a change from just a century ago where death tended to be swift and sudden. In many ways, this gives us an unprecedented change to engage with death and dying. Yet we don’t.
The West, America especially, is a death-denying culture–kinda funny when you think about it since so much of Judeo-Christian mythology is wrapped up in preparing for the afterlife. Americans may be looking to get into heaven, but the thought of crossing that threshold terrifies us. Even the phrase “death and dying” is a bit weird. I mean, putting the cart before the horse, aren’t we? Like we can somehow go backwards from death into dying? Uh, no. It don’ work like that, sorry. We don’t even know how to deal with the elderly who carry that faint scent that reminds us of the red-eared hounds and their eternal hunt (that’s a soapbox I’ll have to save for another time).
This is one case where I fully believe that I’m part of the problem. I’ve consciously balked at the thought of getting a will done, applying for life insurance, or drawing up an advanced directive and deciding who should have Durable Power of Attorney. I have a child, these are all things that need tending…and yet there’s some portion of animal superstition that is paralyzed by the chance that I’ll attract Death’s attention if I prepare too well or too thoroughly. It’s not only ludicrous thinking, it’s selfish and inconsiderate of those who would survive me–and having dealt with the fallout from relatives and clients who were not prepared, I feel confident in making that statement.
This being the case, it’s time to crack my knuckles and get to work. Here’s what I do know that I want for my death:
- I do not want heroic measures to preserve or extend my life.
- If I have a terminal illness, I only want palliative care, not curative.
- I may in fact get “DNR” tattooed on my sternum if needed or in case someone loses the paperwork.
- Hospice FTW.
- I want to die at home or outside in the sun, not in a hospital.
- I want to be buried on my land (or cremated if zoning doesn’t allow for that).
- I want a fruit tree planted on top of my remains.
It’s a short list, certainly not comprehensive. But at least it’s a start.
*D. Carr. 2012. “Death and Dying in the Contemporary United States: What are the Psychological Implications of Anticipated Death?” Social and Personality Psychology Compass 6/2: 184–195.