Do you find it depressing?

**Time for this post?  Reading…3 minutes. Video…12 minutes. Thinking…up to you.

Now that I’ve started thinking about the ins and outs of dying, I find myself in conversations about what I’m learning and considering.

Last week, I had one of those conversations with a long-time friend. We discussed my developing ideas about donating my body to medical education and writing my own obituary. As we were wrapping up, Barb said, “Do you find it depressing, all this planning for dying?” That’s a fair question, especially given our cultural denial of death.

My answer: “Not at all.”

Getting things in order, taking responsibility for what happens in my life… that’s been my philosophy all along. Why stop now?

Rochelle Martin, the palliative care nurse speaking in last week’s blog, listed four action steps. The last was to choose in death what we value in life. So for me, it’s only natural to prepare for dying by learning what to expect and taking appropriate action as things evolve.

I also feel it’s important to maintain a sense of perspective. I can be overly serious when dealing with a weighty topic so I need to remind myself to lighten up at times. Author Lesley Hazleton is a role model for that. I don’t share all her viewpoints and opinions, but I do appreciate that she has thought deeply about dying and is able to express her ideas with humour.

In this TEDx talk, she makes the point that we need endings, and the most basic ending of all—our ability to die—is built into our biology, making our mortality a defining part of what it means to be human.

What we take for granted may really be what we haven't taken the time to think through. - Lesley Hazleton, Journalist and Author

What we take for granted, what we think is so obvious that it couldn’t be any other way, is shaped largely by the cultural stories that surround us. Yet if we were to think through our assumptions about what is true, we might see things differently.

A common cultural assumption is that thinking about death can’t help but be depressing, Yet, as Lesley Hazleton points out, it’s the opposite scenario—living forever—that depresses her.

I care that you think.

Questioning the conventional wisdom is the only way we will find out what is true for us. We may agree with the conventional wisdom—or we may not. We won’t know unless we think about it.

What do you take for granted about death and dying? What haven’t you taken time to think about?

Your thoughts?

Thinking about dying…

Lately, I’ve been thinking about dying. Not that I’m planning to do it any time soon, but because I realize how little I know about dying…and about what it would take to die well.

You’d think I would be well-versed on the subject by now, considering that my parents, four grandparents, and one sister have all died during my adulthood. But my ignorance is no surprise, considering that dying isn’t talked about in Western culture except perhaps in hushed tones and very private conversations.

Because we don't talk about death, we don't know what to expect—and we certainly don't know how to help somebody who's in the midst of the dying process.

Yet 100% of us are going to die.

When I stopped writing last winter, it was because a deathly-ill family member was staying with me. This brought me face to face with many of the issues in end-of-life care, for both the dying person and the caregiver—things I hadn’t had to think about before.

Remarkably, he recovered and moved back to his own home in the spring. That left me with the mental space to think. And so, given that experience, I’ve been thinking about dying.

As you might have guessed, I’m expanding the scope of this blog to include conscious dying in addition to conscious living. For several months, I’ve been reading, listening to videos and podcasts, and thinking about what would be useful consumer information to help me navigate through the last stage of life as I transition into whatever is next.

Death is terrifying when it’s an unknown.

Because it isn’t talked about, death is mysterious. And mystery usually engenders fear. The antidote is education. What if we approached the mystery by being curious and asking questions?

Educating ourselves makes the whole topic less mysterious and more friendly. Today I’m bringing you a video and an article that I think are good places to start this education. Rochelle Martin is a Registered Nurse specializing in psychiatric and mental health nursing. She also holds a Master of Divinity degree and works in emergency and acute psychiatry, palliative care, and spiritual care.

Certified as a Death Midwife and Home Funeral-Care Guide, Rochelle teaches individuals, families, professionals, and community groups about death-related care. In her work as a crisis-care RN, she supports families immediately following the sudden death of a loved one in the emergency room. Who better to talk with us about death?

This conversation is important because we are culturally alienated from death, and have forgotten what to do in the face of it. She challenges us to embrace death, and points out how we could do better than we are right now.

Her action steps…

  1. Think about death—it puts things into perspective.
  2. Talk about death—and write down what we want and don’t want.
  3. Teach each other about how to die—and how to care for our dead. It could be the hardest best thing we ever do.
  4. Choose in death what we value in life—and consider newer funeral practices that are sustainable and environmentally conscious.

Environmentally friendly practices…

Her last point piqued my interest about possibilities, and I started looking into whether a green burial would be available where I live. I’ll say more about that another time.

In talking about the impact of current practices, she mentions the issue of mercury emissions from the crematorium. Any idea why this occurs?

I was curious. Here’s what I found out. The mercury comes from amalgam fillings as they are vaporized by the high heat used for cremation. One solution is to ask the operator to remove any amalgam fillings from the body before cremation.

Another solution is to opt for an alternative method that doesn’t involve heat. Apparently it’s used more for pets than humans at the moment. I’ll let you know more about that in another post. In the meantime, here’s an excellent article to introduce you to the main options for body disposal: Green Funerals: The Ultimate in Recycling.

As always, I’m interested in how this lands for you. I’d love to hear your thoughts below.