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.
3 thoughts on “Death and Dying”
The death-denying of our culture is pretty unhealthy, IMO. I actually do in fact have a DNR on my state ID, and my dying wishes mirror yours (though I want an evergreen planted on top of me, I’m already fruity enough). One of my planned book releases for next year (here comes shameless plug time, lol) will be entitled “Vigils of Vanaheim” (in the V-word of Vanaheim series) and will have rituals not just for holidays and full moons but also for rites of passage – not just funerals but actual death rites for the dying, and grief rites for those left behind. It’s something that really needs to be out there. Pagan traditions tend to be a step behind in dealing with all of this (even though we should be a step ahead considering how many of us believe in reincarnation and/or do some type of dead veneration), especially with the hyperfocus on “positive energy” and so on. I’ll get off my soapbox now, but I definitely agree that people should think about what they want when the end comes.
It’s not something I’ve thought through in enough detail to say yet. However I have thought about types of burial, hopefully a woodland burial ground and put some money away to pay for a plot. Not booked one yet though as I’m not one hundred per cent certain I’ll always want to be buried in Penwortham, although it’s highly likely.