Tag Archives: death

There Are Things Worse Than Death

Sometimes the news gives you a story that you just can’t shake.

A woman accused of trying to suffocate her 11 month old.

Not your run of the mill child abuser, though. A loving mother who has cared for her child, born with severe physical defects that she can never hope to recover from. A devoted parent who has had to watch her child suffer her entire life, with no end in sight to the suffering.

Not just suffer, but have to be resuscitated over and over again.

To me this is the deciding factor. This baby’s body has been trying to die. It is done. But our ability to perform medical miracles keeps the poor soul alive to continue its agony.

Why can we not learn to use our skills wisely? Why have we not established a really good process for determining the situations when it is an imperative of humaneness to just let a person go when it is obvious that death would be the best thing?

I’m not talking about euthanasia here, which is what it sounds like this mother was allegedly attempting, perhaps after a mental breakdown. Although I do think there are extremely rare occasions that might call for euthanasia, (I approve of Oregon’s Right to Die Law), I think in this circumstance a more appropriate concept is Do Not Resuscitate.

From what I’ve heard it is even difficult for an old person to have their DNR instructions respected.

There are things worse than death.

Don’t get me wrong, I am all in favor of our amazing techniques to bring someone back from the brink of death. Had this baby been in a car accident, obviously any extreme measures would be most welcome to keep her alive long enough for her body to heal and regain function.

But this baby’s body is not going to heal. Her brain stem will never grow. It will never function properly, according to the doctors’ own diagnosis. And yet they perpetuate this body’s life.

People comment that it is up to God, not us, to take a body. But God HAS BEEN trying to take her body. I am not saying that our medical abilities exceed the power of God, but if you believe in prayer, then aren’t actions a very concrete expression of our will, what we wish to see happening? Are we very naively asking for a person’s life to continue, and perhaps God is “allowing” our prayer to be answered, the way God “allows” all sorts of horrible things like murder, rape, torture. “Allowing” us to exercise our free will and then deal with the consequences later.

And if found guilty, this mother will have to deal with the consequences of what she’s done, legally and otherwise. I would never attempt to condone or make excuses for her alleged actions, but I also believe that the way a person has lived counts for something. There is ample evidence that she has been a devoted mother to both this baby and her 3 year old son, including this online website that she has maintained. It appears that she herself has suffered through a situation that few of us could handle and come out the other side with our sanity intact.

I can’t help but wonder, in the event that this crime really was committed, how her community might also be held responsible: was anyone making sure she got enough sleep, enough to eat? Was anyone making sure she didn’t need some mental health care? Is the medical establishment in any way responsible for having developed the ability to diagnose permanent defects, having developed procedures for keeping humans alive when their bodies are failing, but then refusing to resolve these two aspects so that families do not get caught in a nightmare of suffering?

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Regret

When I was a teenager, acutely aware of the life-altering impact of every choice I faced, I adopted a decision-making strategy which, though it has not lessened my anxiety, has nevertheless served me well.

I decided that, when I was paralyzed by indecision and needed to snap out of it, I would imagine myself on my death bed, then look my options squarely in the face and determine which would cause me the least regret from that future position.

This method has mostly caused me to do kind of crazy, out-of-the-box kinds of things: sell all my possessions and move to Ireland with two small children, quit a Master’s program to move across the country, homeschool my kids, sell my car and become a cyclist.  And I regret almost none of them.  As the old song goes, “Regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention.”

But it occurs to me that I should have expanded this policy beyond the momentous decisions to include the small habitual choices I make everyday without even thinking about it.  I realized this when I suddenly became aware of how much I regret and will regret all the worrying I’ve done in my life.  I’m not entirely sure that this is a choice, or if I might choose to break the habit and live differently.

But these small acts of extreme stress and discomfort color my life’s journey just as much as a decision to marry or change jobs.  Day after day accepting my tendency to panic and refusing to take on the project of learning a new approach to conflict and challenge is just as essential to forming who I am and what my life is about as moving house or cultivating a friendship.

I choose now to devote time and energy to this goal: of becoming more emotionally stable, of learning to relax and see how small most obstacles truly are in the Big Picture, of finding the fun in a challenge instead of going into fight or flight mode against an insurmountable enemy such as a bank error or burnt toast.  I choose to remember that the attitude I choose to have throughout an average day is just as important a detail of my life as my address or my level of education.

I know that even if I don’t ever totally succeed, at least this is one decision I will never regret.

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When I’m 88…

Have you seen the movie Big Fish?  Brilliant flick.  A must-see, if ever there was one.

Anywho, inspired by this movie, I love the idea of “knowing” when you are going to die, although I DO NOT actually want to KNOW that information.

Allow me to elaborate.

I am one of those people who is mindful of the impending event of death to an excruciating degree.  Whenever I hear that wise advice, “Don’t forget, we are all mortal, enjoy every day as if it were your last… blah blah blah” I think to myself, “Welcome to my life.”

So on the positive side, death is not going to catch me without having appreciated every second of every day.

On the negative side, I think there is a damn good reason that most people live blissfully unappreciative lives, and that is because it makes you INSANE to think about death all the time.

Let’s put it this way: the joy I felt surrounding the birth of each of my children was painfully tempered by the realization that… 

  1. I was going to be afraid every day not only of my own death but of my children’s death, and…
  2. In giving them birth I was simultaneously giving them their eventual death, as well as all the suffering they might experience in between those two events.

So I was able to appreciate the father character in Big Fish, after he’d seen his own death in the witch’s eye, as he went through his adventures, starting to feel afraid and then remembering, “Wait!  This isn’t how I go!”

I have decided that I “know” I am going to die in my sleep when I’m 88.  (Anyone who’s suffered through enough of my blog knows that I am partial to the number 8.)

Now, whether this is what really happens or not, who cares.  The point is, I won’t face every single, day-to-day perilous situation, like, say, driving down the road in the car, with so much fear.  I can look the oncoming semis confidently in the headlights and say to myself, “Don’t panic!  This isn’t how I go!”  I am absolutely exhausted of being afraid all the time.

(There’s no chance that I will actually put myself in a dangerous situation with a false sense of immortality… you can’t erase 38 years of paranoia THAT easily.)

But if I could only convince myself to play along, to believe against all reason that everything is okay… I might at least add a couple of years on to my life with lower stress levels.  It’s worth a shot, anyway.

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Death and Yardwork

Wow, as I sat down to write about my day, that title came out of nowhere, and immediately made me think of two men in my family who died, years apart, of heart attacks while working in the hot sun in their yards: my Uncle Ray and my grandfather-in-law (he would be my ex-grandfather-in-law now, but he will always be dear to me no matter what his grandson does… or refuses to do).  May they both rest in peace.

But that wasn’t what I was going to talk about.  I was going to mention the sunflowers I ripped out of the ground today before I mowed.  They were big ‘uns, a few of them over six feet, maybe seven, I should have had my husband stand next to them so I could measure.  They had been done, hanging over, some laying on the ground, for a week now.

If I owned my own home and had planted them in the backyard, I would have left them awhile.  As I grow older I find I enjoy even this stage in my garden and am loathe to hide it by removing the evidence of the plant’s death too soon.  

It has always been easy to love the spring groundbreaking, getting sore muscles and blisters from working that shovel.  And of course the new sprouts are very exciting, the tall strong stalks very pleasant, the flowers and fruit then being the climax of summer’s joy.  I can’t think of many better ways to spend an afternoon than wandering barefoot in the garden, sun on my shoulders, and grazing on the sweet goodies.

But the decay is special too.  There is a magic in watching life turn back into dirt.  The quietness, the lack of excitement that lets you think straight, really contemplate the whole circle.  I have come to appreciate the sight of jack-o-lanterns rotting on the compost heap, bean vines drying into a brown lifeless maze on the trellis, and yes, the tired, nodding heads of sunflowers, sinking to the earth to release the gems that will be next year’s flowers.

But I don’t own my own house and my back yard is a small slit of grass in perpetual shade at the bottom of a hill.  I am not anxious to hear any neighbors whine about my “neglected” front yard or have any of the other renters call the landlord to tattle.  

So I’ll just have to find something else to remind me.  Maybe when the leaves turn and fall, maybe when it starts to be dark early, and cold, maybe that will give me the inspiration to remember what so many people try to hide: that we’re all heading back into the dirt, slowly but surely, and we should bloom where we’re planted now, while we have the chance.

Maybe I’ll try to keep those two special ancestors in my thoughts, along with all the others, so that their flowers can live on.

 

Sidenote:  I read the phrase “bloom where you are planted” somewhere once, and though I don’t know who to give credit to, I don’t want to take the credit for it myself.

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Tragic End to a New Life

I read a story online at CNN this morning about a baby who died from being shaken.  Normally I try to avoid these tragic tales because I empathize so deeply that it colors my whole day a dark depressing shade of gloomy.

But in this case I feel the need to give testimony from my own life that I wish would prevent this from happening to anyone else.

I remember among my life lessons with my first baby, stuck at home all day with this little being that depended completely upon my good will, the first time I got violently angry when she wouldn’t stop crying.  I remember there came a point when an clear image popped into my head of me throwing her against a wall.  I was just at the edge of losing control.

I wish I could tell new parents, this is okay.  This moment does not make you a bad human.  You are probably going to feel this angry, these feelings are normal, they happen, don’t freak out.

Somehow I knew to do the right thing.  As soon as I saw that image, I put her down where she was safe and I went in the other room.  She was still crying, but I knew she was safe, so I just sat by myself for a minute and tried not to be scared at how mad I was.  When I felt a little calmer a couple of minutes later, I went back in to her and I tried again to soothe her.  

I don’t feel proud of myself that I’ve never shaken or otherwise injured a baby, I just feel lucky.  I  know how strong the feelings of anger and frustration are, and I know how hard it is to be alone for extended periods with a baby.  To the people who have succumbed to the violent feelings, I feel the deepest sympathy.  I feel like it could have been me.

But no one ever talks about this.  No one ever admits to young parents how there might arise violent feelings, and how to just let them pass, which is not easy.  No one ever talks about how unnatural it is for a parent to be isolated with a young one; we are supposed to live in a tribe, are we not, with people all around to help us when life threatens to be too much to handle?  But too often we are separated in our own little box, expected to be independent and deal with things on our own.  

I am so sorry that this ever happens.  I cannot express that strongly enough.  I don’t feel like an ad campaign by the Department of Social Services is going to do the trick (I’ve seen the posters), though it might get the ball rolling.  I feel like we all have to talk about it, give genuine support to new parents and tell them the truth.  Not laugh and say, “Well, you’ll never get any sleep now!  ha ha” but tell them about the real frustrations, and let them know that we can offer advice and support if they’d like.  

I can’t stand to see this sort of tragedy happen and know in my heart that, if we behaved as if we were all in this together, we might prevent it.

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The Last Breath

When I die, I will let go of a breath I have been holding for a very long time.

The base of my neck will unknot, releasing my fear of error, criticism, and failure.

My shoulders will relax, letting go of the fear for my children, for their safety, health, and happiness.

My hands will unclench as I stop clinging to my possessions, those objects of use, nostalgia or monetary value that absorbed my attention, whose loss I daily feared.

The small of my back will lengthen, unfurl, finally free of the crippling anxiety of rejection.

My brow will smooth out as the unbearable tension of a world plagued with every kind of crisis no longer belongs to me.

My jaw will loosen, dropping to let fly all the angry, sad words I held on to year after year, the stream of letters soaring harmlessly up to the stars for their amusement, to be remixed as a satire of Life on Earth.

My lips will unpurse, widen into a smile of relief as the last puff of air escapes.

For now, I keep inhaling hope and desire — the inspiration to continue to live fully with every breath I take.

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