Shh! not so loud — someone might hear! this must be whispered, secretly, furtively, the dirtiest word I know:
Oh sure, we can be dead tired or dead broke or dead on our feet or dead to the world, but once our life has actually ended, that is the one thing no one wants say about us.
Instead, we’ve passed away.
We’ve passed on.
We’ve moved on.
We’ve left his world (or plane of existence).
We’ve gone to a better place.
We’ve kicked the bucket.
We’ve shuffled off this mortal coil.
To avoid this most dreaded subject, we’ve invented dozens of ways to talk about what happened while avoiding that dirtiest of words — dead — or any of its variations: die, dying, death.
It’s as if we fear that saying any of these words might open up a “Black Hole” over in the corner of the room that will inexorably suck us down into a terminal spiral of sickness, dying, and, yes, even death. The very thought of death causes us to shut down saying its name.
Yet, death is the most predictable part of our lives. It remains inevitable and is one thing we all have in common despite our differences. We will all die. We know this. We’re not dumb. We just don’t want to think about it.
I think that’s wrong. I think that’s part of the problem. Death is a natural part of life.
Rather than pretend it’s not there, we should embrace the end of our lives as the natural end to life’s journey. We’ve all known all along it is coming someday, but we try to ignore it in hopes this will somehow keep us more alive. Yet, remembering this “unwanted” knowledge can free us up to look at death and dying differently.
In the film, The Departed, Jack Nicholson’s character greets an older man at a bar, triggering this quick bit of dialogue:
“How’s your mom doing?”
“We all are — plan accordingly.”
That is my hope: to “plan accordingly.”
Rather than seeing the end of my life as some inescapable Black Hole I will be sucked into as part of a dread-filled Death Spiral, I choose to change the game in the only way I can: changing how I approach my inevitable death. I want to re-design the death spiral, spinning it upward, so that my death comes not as some dreaded hooligan robbing me of life, but as an old friend I’ve been expecting, ushering me out the door. You may think this sounds a bit morbid, but nothing makes me feel more alive than to remember that this life will come to an end.
There is a growing understanding of how people might achieve what can be called a Good Death — if we “plan accordingly.” To that purpose, I recently took some preliminary training about becoming an End-of-Life Doula, also known as a death doula. I will share some of what I learned about this emerging practice in future blog posts.
If you knew you were dying, would you be kinder? more loving?
Well, you are — we all are.
—seen on the internet
I intend to live fully even as I move closer to dying. And while I still live, I will use those dirtiest of words — dying, death, dead — to talk about my upcoming ending, taking away the power of those particular words to paralyze us in fear, working to restore a greater respect — and acceptance — for the final act of life, death.