Do You Think About Death?

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My great-grandmother Kate standing near the grave of her late husband. (picture from a relative who uploaded it to Ancestry.com)

Death

It’s something I think about occasionally; a fleeting thought, a sad reminder or at times it comes when thinking with regret about something I wish I would have done before a loved-one passed away. I do think about how I hope to die; peacefully in my sleep after a nice meal on a beautiful summers day spent with friends and family when I am really old.

After I’m no longer using this body I have considered donating it to science, but I am kind of hoping it is old and used up before that happens. Maybe I can put an age clause on my after life disposition; If I am “X” years old and in a state of interest to science please donate, but If I am old and have used my body to the fullest please cremate me. I think that is reasonable, don’t you?

The right to die or “Death with Dignity” is also on my mind. I live in Washington state, one of only 5 states that allow for “death with dignity” along with Vermont, Montana, New Mexico and Oregon. Oregon has been in the news recently because of the story of Brittany Maynard, the young woman with an terminal brain cancer who has moved from the San Francisco area of California to Portland, Oregon so that she can have the right to choose when she is ready to die. From a CNN interview;

“”I’ve had the medication for weeks. I am not suicidal. If I were, I would have consumed that medication long ago. I do not want to die. But I am dying. And I want to die on my own terms,” she wrote on CNN.com.

“Having this choice at the end of my life has become incredibly important. It has given me a sense of peace during a tumultuous time that otherwise would be dominated by fear, uncertainty and pain.””

I hope I am not faced with that choice or need to choose, but I am thankful that my State does allow for that option if I were to become terminally ill. I have watched a couple of people deal with the end of the lives of loved ones, who are having little to no quality of life, yet they have been medically kept alive because they are holding out hope or because the medical system just does not allow for an assisted end. Just because a life can be extended does not mean it should be extended. A rational adult in control of their faculties should be able to make a decision about how they want to live their life and how, if necessary, they want to stop living their life. They should be able to do it humanely and peacefully rather than being forced to end it in trauma because the medical system isn’t set up to treat humans humanely.

During my husbands 10 days in the hospital last December, right before he was moved to ICU, a nurse asked me if my husband had a living will and told me to bring it into the hospital. My husband and I both have completed living wills and have made it clear to each other what the other is to do if we are facing making that decision for the other. The nurses request was frightening at the time, but I was glad that I did have an answer even if it was one that I didn’t want to face.

In a recent “Fresh Airinterview conducted by Terry Gross on NPR’s she speaks with Caitlin Doughty, a mortician, who has written a memoir and has a series of uTube videos about death, dying and some other pretty weird stuff. Her memoir is “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and Other Lessons from the Crematory.” An excerpt from the interview;

“On how she once romanticized crematory work, and how that compared with reality

I think it was probably more romantic than it actually ended up being. I thought of the idea of … the open-air pyre and leading the body to it and placing it on the pyre and everybody’s weeping and it’s beautiful. But the reality that I found is that modern crematories are really industrial environments and the body goes into large industrial machines and oftentimes I was the only one there. And it’s hot and it’s dirty and you get covered in dust [ashes] as you’re working.”

I have never had a romantic or mystical view of cremation or dying, but I guess that is because our western culture just doesn’t do that sort of thing and my family is a rather stoic lot. Several members of my immediate family have been cremated, my father’s mom and dad, my father and most recently my mom’s mother. My father’s parents, my grandparents, were cremated and their ashes were spread in area’s that meant something to them. My grandfather was spread in a field he used to love to go with his dog to hunt duck and pheasant and my dad and I spread my grandmother’s ashes around their home on the lake.

I took care of my fathers final arrangements and picked “him” up from the funeral home after he was cremated. I remember the person at the mortuary warning me before  giving me the wrapped square package that it was heavy so that I wouldn’t drop it when they handed it to me. It was heavy, the size and weight of a large brick, but wrapped in paper that looked like it could be used to wrap a wedding gift. It took us a couple of years to decide what to do with his ashes. Finally we decided, my little brother, my grandfather(my mom’s father) and I, to pack into the North Cascade mountains on horses and spread his ashes in a place that we thought was special to him. That is a day I will always cherish and remember.

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Grandpa Chuck and my little brother Andy sharing a drink on top of the mountain after we spread my father’s ashes.

My grandmother, who passed away on mother’s day over 6 years ago now(wow time does fly by), was cremated and set in a mausoleum at the cemetery where her mother is buried. There is a spot for my grandfather to be beside her when it’s his time to go. I like the idea that they will be together someday, hopefully a long time from now, for eternity in their little spot on the wall.

Today, my wish is to be cremated and my ashes spread in Clear Lake near my grandparents home and around the lake where I spent many happy years as a child. I say today, because things can change, life goes on and some other place may develop that enduring impact on me that that place of my early childhood had on my life. In fact, I hope it does; that will mean that I have been truly living my life, tasting what it has to offer, enjoying it, finding pleasure and other places to be myself.

Do you think about death? Do your loved ones know your wishes after you are gone? Do you have a living will? Do you want the right to choose if necessary “death with dignity”?

3 thoughts on “Do You Think About Death?

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