Meaningful Death

Death is something most people don’t like to or want to think about, until forced to. But we should. Not about dying itself, but about it being inevitable and to be prepared for it once the time comes – along with the loved ones.

Today my father brought this topic up in a conversation with my brother and I. He’s 70 years old, and although completely healthy and fit, is realistic about having most of his years behind him. He wanted to discuss a topic of importance to him, that’s what happens to his body after he’s gone. He’s done some extensive research on how to donate his body to science and medical research, as he wants to not just donate all organs that might be possible but to offer his dead body for medical students’ practicing. He had read in a newspaper how most medical students never see a dead body during their studies, as there just aren’t many donated for that kind of medical training – purposes.

Many years back I’ve already done an organ donor – testament and also mentioned to my family I’d prefer after my death that my body be fully utilised in which ever way possible. For me, my body is not me, and once I have no more need for it, I’d rather give it for meaningful use. I think it’s a beautiful thing to be able to help, even with death. When it’s my time to go, I could still be able to do some good; by donating organs, and giving medical students a chance to practice on a real body.

I was pleased my father had thought this through for himself and that he wanted me and my brother to be on the same page and accept it. I believe it will also be a comforting thought at a time of grievance, to know that other people are getting help through our loss. That’s the kind of death I want for myself one day as well. Death won’t feel so useless, and a complete end, when new life might come out of it.

It’s interesting though how difficult it is to donate your body for medical research. My father has made some 15 phone calls and still doesn’t have all the answers and proper paper work done, to guarantee authorities are aware of his decision and will and how it shall be organised when the time comes. It does provide quite a bit of bureaucracy to go through, and surely is better to be dealt with now and not at the moment of loss and grievance. Most people won’t be bothered to be proactive in planning how their eventual death could be made beneficial as well, so societies and especially university hospitals could and should be more active on raising this topic.

Our bodies are not us and we won’t have any need for the body once it stops living. Why not end our lives with a one last good action, then?

My godmother writes a Christmas letter every year, reflecting on the past year and thanking for having been part of it. In her letter this year, she used a great quote – “One day we all will die. But on every other day we will not.” The focus should be on all those days when we don’t die. Still, it’s good to be prepared and make sure our death won’t go to waste, either.

 

The Inevitable

There’s one aspect in life that has mastered full equality – death. Rich or poor, white or black, believer or atheist. We’ll all die one day, we all have only limited time given to us to make the best of our time. Make the best of our selves.

It’s the one thing fully out of our control. Unavoidable. Commonly, we choose not to think too much about death. Better so, as the life matters more than the death. But what about when the limited time left becomes known to us?

A loved one in my family was diagnosed with breast cancer just 8 months ago. Breast cancer being often treatable, we weren’t too worried. Now I learned the cancer has spread to the lungs. Now it’s no longer curable. Now it’s real – a death sentence. The unavoidable is drawing close.

In a situation like this, the treatment options are for potentially postponing the inevitable, not about the cure. I heard from my mom, that when her mom was diagnosed with lung cancer (a long time smoker) towards the end she refused the treatments which might have given her more time but decreased the quality of the time left. She had understood and accepted it. But all the more so, my mom felt now hurt and betrayed that her sister, now with the terminal stage lung cancer, still refuses to give up smoking. It’s understandable – those staying behind want to hold on to the remaining precious moments and not let go. It feels wrong that a person chooses to cut the already short time even shorter. We are used to being on a fighting mode – always keep fighting, don’t give up, miracles happen.

But it’s not that black and white. Whereas I would definitely urge smokers to quit, I do understand it’s easier to say than to do. Especially hard it’s understandably when you’ve been given the final warning.

Our lives are filled with unhealthy treats and habits. Unbalanced diets, lack of exercise, stress, deserts, alcohol, cigarettes and long list of other stuff are known to affect our chances for a healthy long life yet we still keep going. There are many ways for measuring quality of life but I’d say it’s every individual’s choice to define what matters for them.

I’m not judging my auntie for not giving up smoking as I believe in her mind it’s too late and she’s not ready to add to her burden. She probably needs the cigarettes for their calming effect and doesn’t have the strength for fighting the side effects of quitting. At the same time I understand m mom’s anxiety, losing a second family member to the cigarettes and being able to do nothing about it. People are not perfect. It’s horrible to lose a loved one and even worse so when you have to watch them destroying themselves and not being able to do anything about it.

People are different. Some have stronger self control than others. Some cope better under pressure as others. It’s also in our human nature to try and protect our loved ones. And it’s hard to let go.

I have no idea how it is to live knowing there’s only very little time left. That you might not make it to the next Christmas, are unlikely to have another birthday party. If I were to receive a message like that, I’d likely be tempted to grab something calming as well. I would hope there to be no big regrets present at the final moments. In my auntie’s case, I hope she’ll be able to find her peace.

Those of us who’ll stay behind, we do have the option to make choices which could give us more quality and time. Perhaps some damaging habits can be overcome with healthier options. At the end it matters how we lived our lives. The actions we took, the words spoken, love shared. Death is not the goal, life well lived is. To be able to say on the deathbed that we made the best out of the given time. Then there are no regrets shadowing the last moments.

Make the best out of your life, be the best person you can be. That’s my way forward.