A Sobering Blog offering
When I write my blog, believe or not, I try to be upbeat and positive- in spite of my children’s comments of ‘ oh mom” as I somehow continually revert back to my halcyon baby boomer days ( hey, the title is of the blog is blogging BOOMER!) of shaking my love beads, chatting in UC’s grassy quadrangle or reflecting on some aspects that tend to focus on the march of time. Last week stymied by their criticisms, I figured I would not deal with the overwhelming thoughts that have dominated these last few days. Yet, Sandra Martin’s presentation at U of T’s lecture series about a good death seemed an apropos jumping off spot and so I gave in and could not resist my penchant towards a glass half full, or perhaps in this case, one might say, one emptied all together.
After describing how Canada has approached a new and lack of clear fulfillment towards physician assisted dying, Sandra Martin invited the assembled to talk with their friends and family about how and when they would choose to end their lives. She proposed for herself a Victorian styled farewell surrounded by loved ones in a cosy bed, a fireplace and maybe even a cat brushing her knees. Her thoughts concerned what had been considered a” good death” triggered by her own mother’s passing, but upon deeper reflection she attested to too many years her mother spent suffering and an end that came with rasping breaths and frequent moans of pain in a hospital bed. Juxtaposing this struggle to choosing our own finalities, she cited Oregon, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Quebec where people thoughtfully cogitate and make that difficult decision. Stipulating the progress of Canada’s law with the Kay Carter law, Sue Rodriguez cases and others she spoke patiently, identifying Malcolm Gladwell’s notion of the tipping point , and when the implausible can and does become real. It was a serious and engaging lecture, particularly as the audience attending are moving not away but towards this final frontier.So it matters muchly, even for those of us who can at the moment move freely with merely achey limbs and appear to have thoughts and memories if waning, still more or less with the exception of the forgotten name or misplaced link in a conversation, in tact.
It is a sobering thought to ruminate on our final moments.Supportive of palliatives care and the fine work of health care professionals who ease patients into the next stage, Martin nonetheless proposed we should have control over our bodies. And why should we not?
I thought of my good friend’s husband this week and her note, telling me, we lost X tonight.” He passed very peacefully”, she wrote. She, as another friend last winter, never expected their partners would not return home after a successful operation or procedure. But complications from degenerative diseases seemed to combine, deepen and override any success of recovery. And so, these women returned home by themselves to sort through their beloveds’ things, replan their lives and plod along without their dear ones who had accompanied them, raised their children with, grown old with and like worn but comfortable shoes, had walked with through their days, both sad and happy.
AND then there was Doc Halladay’s untimely death as he plunged into the Gulf of Mexico. Only 40, a true hero with not only exemplary work habits, prodigious skill as a pitcher for the Jays, but also a true heart that was demonstrated in his charity work for sick kids.He too was waylaid by Death. So terribly unfair to lose the good guys, our heroes big and small, and a reminder we were headed towards Remembrance Day overloaded with the dead in Flanders Field. How well we know that Death spares no person and we all must go to our graves. Not a sports fan, I cried for Halladay, a” gitta neshema” as Jews would say : “ a good soul”.
Sometimes such as in Halladay’s death, it is inexplicable why, an exemplar to all, is snatched from life. We like trusting children want to believe in some kindly Power who protects the just, but even my friends’ husbands, hard workers, fathers and grandfathers, who might have lived at least 10-15 years longer met their final destination. Authors toy with the idea of an afterlife, fantasizing green hills and angels, and religions of course propose – or not- where we might wander in bliss after the years of living are terminated here on this inscrutable planet. But in spite of the glowing light some have reported at the beckon of the long tunnel or the cloud of butterflies that descends or follows mourners, we simply cannot know if we will be greeted on the other side . But more likely, it is a dreamless forever sleep. It is in deed the last frontier from which few ever return.
In the obits last week too, in The Star’s Birth and Death notices, someone had written, “On November 6, a date of her own choosing, Ronni had ended a five- year struggle with Multiple System Atrophy.” I was struck by that introductory phase “ of her own choosing” asserting it was her choice. This weekend with a battery of lawyers, I was also informed that nurses too aid in assisting the process.
As Sandra Martin said, “ Encourage the communication. Talk about what you would like and how you desire to finish off your days, especially while you are lucid enough to make the decisions.” Although these are not the talks we relish, they are necessary ones: in order to maintain control over our bodies.
So although this may not have been an uplifting blog, it nonetheless speaks to an issue raised last week and exemplified by Halladay’s, my friends’ husbands and all who went to fight and die in war, their choice or not.