Let’s Stop Pussyfooting Around Death
I know. Not very spiritual. Obviously I am wanting your attention!
My uncle transitioned in the winter of 2017. He was living in NYC in a nursing home. His caretakers were the staff there. His middle brother a point of contact and visitor. I do not know what his last years were like for him. We were not very close so did not stay in touch. My most current memory of him was jolted by a picture from my father’s funeral service back in October, 2010. Unfortunately, I did not even recall his being there. Only recently I claimed that he wasn’t to my aunt…that is, until I was shown that photo. He always had a gentle and quiet presence so in the cloud of delusion that occurs after the passing of a loved one, I guess my not recalling is understandable.
In my childhood memories of this gentle giant he was always smiling. He spoke a little muffled and never said too much. He had a bit of a lisp which may have been the root cause of his subdued personality. At the same time, I also recall his generous and kind nature, and that he was a bit of a pack-rat…a hoarder, even. He would store his treasures in our garage in North Hollywood, California. I’m not sure what his treasures were as they were definitely off limits! However, each time him came over to add to his storehouse he would give me one or two quarters….Ahhh, a prize that would lead me to the local 7-11 and CANDY!!!!
My family has had its issues. What family doesn’t? When our grandparents were alive, they kept us all at least coming together. We would join together at least a few times a year for holidays and celebrations. However, once they passed most efforting of maintaining family relationships was minimal by most parties. I don’t believe we have all been together at all since the passing of my Nana back in 1999 or 2000. And that get together was an embarrassing fiasco for some which I will not go into! As we all know, Celebrations of Life events can often get feisty when mixed with alcohol!
My uncle died alone. Yes, he was horrible at staying in touch and anybody who knew him would agree. He even “disappeared” a time or two going off on his own adventures without letting the family know. Yes, his family and loved ones reside in all corners of the United States. BUT, He died alone on a cold winter day in a nursing home in NYC. Not only did he die alone, but he had dementia years before he passed. God only knows the isolation and confusion he experienced. It was only after pleas from his cousin, who lived across the country, to his brothers, who lived locally, that anyone took any action in assisting him to move into a nursing home for the care that he required. There are rumors that he lived on the street for some time up to that point.
This tale illustrates a lack of community that exists anymore. You see, this world may have become smaller with an instants access to anywhere on the globe, however, what is lost is the sense of local comradery that once existed. When I was little we enjoyed the game kick-the-can in the street and every adult helped to look after all of the children who wandered about the neighborhood playing until well past dusk. What was unified “back in the day” today is now more separate than ever. The connections that once existed within neighborhoods and even families have been severed by the gnarly knife of fear, trepidation, and technology. I’m not blaming, as I can certainly recognize myself in all of this: almost glaringly. I would never have reached out to my uncle because God-forbid he reject me or seem disinterested. It was not worth the risk to me! I’ll just continue to live my happy little life right over here in my own little bubble. Due to this change in community it is important to be aware of the free and paid services that are available to assist where this commonwealth no longer does.
Lack of community or not, we do not have to die alone. There is a movement occurring right now across the globe around the awareness of death and dying. Dying requires as much attention, consideration, and planning as does a birth. We have to stop avoiding the topic of death. In this world of keeping people alive at whatever the cost the process of dying has become cold and mechanical. Doctors are taught to save lives, whatever the cost. We each need to put serious consideration into how we want to die. I suggest having a plan (advance directive) in place even as young as age 30 and updating it as necessary and at least every five years. If you’re not sure how to go about this you can check with an Institute on Aging in your area/country. Oftentimes a local Hospice could point you in the right direction, too. If you need assistance, please email me directly.
My uncle most likely gave no thought to an advanced directive. Once dementia set in that opportunity was gone. It wasn’t that he was poor and without money, either. He had options while we was still clear-minded. He could have planned the most beautiful and tranquil death he desired. He was of the generation where you don’t talk about things like “death”. We need to start talking about things like this! Whether we have money or not, we all have options. There are also End-of-Life Doulas who provide support services to those sick or dying and their loved ones on a sliding fee scale or even free. Death is inevitable. How you choose to die is often a choice.
BIO: Rev. Maureen L. Yarbrough, Funeral Officiator, Death Doula, Harley Riding Minister! Oh, and my day job is managing a medical practice.email: firstname.lastname@example.org phone: (904) 625-8842 https://www.facebook.com/SoulSteward/ https://twitter.com/StewardSoul https://www.instagram.com/soul_steward_advocates/