“If we must die, O let us nobly die, so that our precious blood may not be shed in vain;”~ Claude McKay.
We do not like to talk about death, neither our own nor of those close to us. It is as if we will jinx ourselves, somehow the grim reaper will be reminded of our existence and come and snatch us away. And yet it is a fate more certain than anything else, it is inevitable and unavoidable. If we want to ensure that we have a peaceful and comfortable transition, we may need to think about it, to plan for it. Death is not optional, it is not something which, fingers crossed, we may never experience, like an IRS audit or a root canal!
It was a funeral which brought this home to me. I was blessed to attend the homegoing ceremony of a woman I grew up knowing very well. She was a strong Jamaican woman, an entrepreneur and go-getter. She started off working for others, then had a dressmaking business in her home, and eventually ran her own restaurant in the heart of Chapelton. She immigrated to the US almost 30 years ago, and lived in New York with her children. Her last years had been filled with health challenges and hospitalizations, but she insisted on moving to ‘sunny Florida’ to be close to other members of her family. Within hours of her arrival she had to be hospitalized, but she saw and spoke with all of the family from her hospital bed, and minutes after they left her, she slipped away. She had met her final goal.
I was reminded of the story of another Jamaican woman, one who had come to the US in middle age and worked harder than she had ever had to work at home. Eventually her health failed and she was hospitalized with heart failure. All the time she was in the hospital she begged her daughter to take her home to Jamaica. The doctors shook their heads. There was no way she could fly, she was too unstable. Of course there was no money, no insurance for an air ambulance. She gradually improved and was discharged, still in a delicate situation. After some months, her daughter decided to take the chance, and together they flew down to Jamaica. As the plane touched down, the mother touched her daughter’s arm, and with a twinkle in her eye said “Coo pan who di Doctor seh cyan fly!” (Translation: “Look at who the Doctor said can’t fly!”). She had met her goal. If I remember correctly, she lived almost a year home in Jamaica.
Both of these ladies knew they were planning for their final trip. They bravely and calmly faced death and laughed at it. How can we ensure that we are in control of those last days? Many people do not know about things like Living Wills, Advance Directives and other things we can do to write down our wishes. Again, there is that fear that somehow talking about death will make it happen! But we plan for other big events in our lives. We make our children research colleges and universities. We shop around and do our due diligence regarding home ownership; life insurance; investment opportunities; retirement. It makes sense to think about the end of our lives as well, and once documented we can put them in a safe place and hopefully never think about them again!
If you don’t make your wishes known to your family or friends, if you don’t put your thoughts in writing, it is possible that you will be subjected to interventions you know nothing about. Having worked for many years in a long-term care facility, I have seen what happens to people who have never spoken about their last days. As their organs and systems fail, there are invasive and aggressive treatments which involve needles, tubes, and surgery to prolong your life. But often these increase quantity without improving quality. Your days may be extended, but machines, tubes and lines come between you and your loved ones.
If you had a choice, would you rather die in an Intensive Care Unit, full of beeps, bright lights, and discomfort, or in a quiet room (possibly in your own home) with some reggae music playing and candles burning, grandchildren playing in the next room? (Substitute your own preferences here!). If you live in the US, and you become critically ill, you have the luxury of having all of the wonders of modern technology to come to your rescue. But if there is no hope of meaningful recovery, if all that this equipment does is delay death rather than procure life, would you still want to avail yourself of it?
I know today is a beautiful day, not a day for thinking about such things. Unfortunately, as stated previously, death is not optional, it will come to us all. And the time to think about this is when you are feeling as if you will live forever. Spend a moment and think about it. If your parents are still alive, ask them how they feel about it. Would they want to receive every possible treatment right up to the end, or would they prefer a more peaceful and dignified approach? And even if their preference is for everything to be done, at least you will know. You won’t be wondering whether you are doing the right thing.
When all is said and done, what is most important to us is that we are in control of our own destiny. When you look at a two-year old, you see someone who more than anything wants to call their own shots. They want to be the boss, to rule the world. Deep inside of us all lives that two year old, still determined to be in charge. So try to find out what your parents, your grandparents want, and get it put down in writing. There are websites that can help you to prepare, some are listed below.
I thought of the words of Jamaican poet Claude McKay this week, as I listened to the shocking tragedy of the young Palestinian boys who were killed as they played soccer on a beach. They had been warned to stay at home, but they just wanted to get out and kick ball. They wanted to act like normal 9-11 year olds. How noble, how defiant. I hope their precious blood will not be shed in vain. How can we live in a world that thinks that killing children is acceptable?
For those of us fortunate to hope to live to be 100, I hope you will not be scared to think about your own mortality. For all we know, death will be but a gateway to an excellent adventure, one which we will say I wish I had done this sooner!!
Have a wonderful weekend Family! Make sure you live until you die, making the most of every day we have together.
Here are some websites: