By John Ballard
In the sad aftermath of the death of Whitney Houston I would be remiss in my mission of raising awareness of health care reform if I failed to post something about death and dying. Without making a big deal about it, here are two items that have come across my monitor in the last few hours.
Go to the link to read the whole post, but here is the Readers Digest version.
- Start early. Begin preparing when you�re young and healthy and death is, presumably, a long way off. Don�t wait until you�re old and sick and death is just around the corner. Then it may be too late.
- Think about death � your own death, I mean � for a moment or two each day. Ponder for those brief moments the possibility that this day might be your last. Ask yourself: �Is there anything I need to say or do if today is my final day?� Thinking about death like this isn�t morbid, as some believe. The point isn�t to dwell on death but to take its reality seriously in order to live more fully. Pondering your own inevitable death is an age-old practice, called �memento mori� (�remember that you will die�) that has helped people embrace life through the realization that they do not have all the time in the world.
- Remember that death is a part of life � a normal, natural, expected part of life. It is life�s �change agent�, in the words of Steve Jobs, which �clears out the old to make way for the new�. There is, according to the ancient Biblical wisdom, recast for modern generations by Pete Seger and the Byrds, a time and season for everything under heaven � for birth and eventually also for death.
- Reject the superstitious belief, common in American culture, that thinking or talking about death makes it happen. It doesn�t work that way. We don�t open the door and let death in just by speaking its name. Take comfort in the words of Fred Rogers (TV�s �Mr Rodgers�) who said, of talking to children about difficult subjects like death, �Whatever is mentionable is manageable.� Yes. Whatever we can talk about, we can deal with.
- Make a �bucket list� (what did we call it before that movie?) of things you want to do, places you want to go, experiences you want to have in the time you have left. Work at checking things off the list. Enjoy yourself along the way. Realize that having a �bucket list� and working to get items checked off provides a subtle reminder that one day, maybe sooner, maybe later, yours will be kicked.
- If you are a praying person, use prayer, especially your bedtime prayers, as a way of preparing for death. This too is an age-old practice that was once taught to children, as in the classic bedtime prayer: Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.� You will be more adept at relaxing into the arms of the God to whom you pray as death approaches if you�ve practiced doing so each evening as you drift off to sleep. John Henry Newman�s well-loved prayer is used by many for this purpose: O Lord, support us all the day long, until the shadows lengthen and the evening comes, the busy world is hushed, the fever of life is over, and our work done. Then, in your mercy, grant us safe lodging, a holy rest, and peace at the last. Amen.
- Read a little poetry. Poets have a unique and insightful way of helping us embrace the not-easily-embraceable truth that death will come, without fail, for each of us. [...]...we can approach death�s door bravely, trusting that �where so much greatness and gentleness have been already, you should be glad to follow.�
- Prepare an Advance Medical Directive. This is a form designating someone to make medical care and treatment decisions on your behalf if you are ever too sick to speak for yourself. You can also describe in this document the sort of medical care you want and do not want, especially as you come to the end of life. A form like this helps your loved ones and caregivers know your wishes, preferences and values. An Advance Medical Directive helps insure you get the care you particularly want. Discuss your wishes with the person you designate as your health care agent. File a copy of the completed form with your primary physician. Every one of us should have an advance directive.
- Say the most important things to the most important people in your life. In his book, The Four Things That Matter Most, palliative care physician Ira Byock writes of how he learned from dying patients that the most important things to say to our loved ones before it�s too late
- Please forgive me
- I forgive you
- Thank you
- I love you
Short Documentary - Aokigahara Suicide Forest
The darkest side of death and dying regards suicide. Among military personnel, both veterans and those on active duty, suicide is at an all-time high. I read somewhere that a month or two ago more of those serving in uniform committed suicide than were killed in combat. And no one who has been paying attention to the news can be unaware of a rash of suicides among young people being bullied. The main targets are those with sexual identity issues, but they are by no means the only victims.
This twenty minute video about a forest area in Japan is not preachy, but in a powerful way underscores the issues that lead many to suicide and gently plants reminders how the problems leading them to that tragic decision might be faced more constructively.