Friday, January 09, 2009

On leaving the dying in the dark

I'm dying.

Let's face it: we all are. There's no avoiding it and denial can only get you so far. Although I was quite sick a year or two ago, and there are no new developments (which would be posted here if there were any), I have been reminded of my mortality again recently when I was bedridden by a nasty 'flu while travelling. It was not fun. But while I lay there alternatively shivering and sweating, I thought about hospitals and sickness, doctors and families, diagnoses and prognoses. And about how the patient is often the last one to know that he is dying. Or so everyone thinks and so everyone conspires to keep it thus.

But I think that's a profound disservice. Why do we think that it would be such a bad thing to know that your own death is imminent? It assumes that the worst thing would be to be dying and to know it. It assumes that the patient is unwilling or incapable of facing his own death and must be treated again like a child whose parents spell out words over his head. Except in this case, rather than the parents spelling L-O-L-L-Y or B-E-D-T-I-M-E, it is the children spelling T-E-R-M-I-N-A-L or T-H-R-E-E-M-O-N-T-H-S.

Although death is not a party, not a cause for celebration or an irrelevance, neither is death the worst possible thing. There are things worse than death. In fact, since Christ has defeated death, we can now face death without fear. Not just the knowledge that one day I, like everyone else, will die, but even the news that death is imminent need not destroy our enjoyment of life or the pursuit of delight in service. Death, the defeated enemy, can be faced and even accepted. Its sting has been removed.

And so there is no need to keep for a conspiracy of the healthy in order to keep the dying in the dark about the their own death. All of us who live in the shadow of death can open our eyes and see the glow of the coming dawn.


Anthony Douglas said...

Of course, what really bugs me is that this common disservice is a breach of medical ethics! I don't know why doctor-patient privilege is suddenly deemed irrelevant, but it irks me no end.

When somebody tries it on me, they'll hear about it!! ;-)

Meanwhile, thanks for the chance to vent...

Anonymous said...

As the now late Richard John Neuhaus said of the ordinariness of death:

"Death is the most everyday of everyday things. It is not simply that thousands of people die every day, that thousands will die this day, although that too is true. Death is the warp and woof of existence in the ordinary, the quotidian, the way things are. It is the horizon against which we get up in the morning and go to bed at night, and the next morning we awake to find the horizon has drawn closer. From the twelfth-century Enchiridion Leonis comes the nighttime prayer of children of all ages: “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray thee Lord my soul to keep; if I should die before I wake, I pray thee Lord my soul to take.” Every going to sleep is a little death, a rehearsal for the real thing."

From "Born Toward Dying", First Things, February 2000

byron smith said...

Ninja Clement - thanks for that quote; it really captures something profound in a culture that so often ignores death.

Death is funny isn't it? At once the most common of all experiences, universally experienced, and yet also profoundly "unnatural" in the light of the resurrection, which reveals it as an enemy. Indeed, it is the resurrection that lies behind the belief that sleep is a preparation for death, for the hope of resurrection is that even this sleep will be followed by an awakening.

Anthony - this blog exists to allow you to vent. :-)

byron smith said...

Guardian: On making a death plan.