Saturday, February 18, 2012

Death as a Part of Life

Recently in a forum I take part in, someone raised the question of death, asking why we so "value" human life is highly. I personally value my own life because it is a blessing. Even when I'm in pain, even when I'm miserable, there is always something to look forward to.

They mentioned that we "spend inordinate amounts of time, money, training etc on keeping people alive who would not have lived so long in normal circumstances yet we put animals to sleep." Most of those people have never been consulted, those in deep dementia or people who have been in a coma or speechless since a violent accident.

They added that we send soldiers off to war to kill in the name of the social freedoms, or for political or religious freedom. I have to add to that, that they are also ordered to die, too, not just to kill. And all without asking their permission.

They also said that we cannot agree about the killing of a tiny handful of prisoners who are such dangerous people that they cannot be released again because of the reasonable expectation that they will once again destroy or end other people's lives. I replied by saying:

"I have a stepson who has spent time inside. He took a hammer to the brainstem of a person who will never walk or talk again, and who is fed through tubes. He got one year in a low security prison, working with native animals, making art, and taking trade-courses. He not only had TV and better meals that I could afford to feed him before and after the sentence, but he had air conditioning and pay-TV as well! All at the taxpayer's expense." For my stepson, his life inside gaol was significantly better and more pleasant than it was outside gaol, either before or afterwards. He talked about viewing it as a reward, as a holiday.

It was pointed out that suicide is also frowned upon by our Western society and regarded as a symptom of mental illness, whilst other societies regard it differently. I see it as an honourable reaction to impossible circumstances. I am a Westerner.

If there is an afterlife, why are we so scared of death? Why do we not regard it as a natural and logical conclusion to life? Death is a part of life. It is a graduation, an acknowledgement that you have learnt what you needed to learn, that you have finished what you needed to do. It is a pat on the back, a congratulations card in the mail, the ultimate accolade.

I think we started demonising death in Euro-based society when we came up with the <sarcasm toggled on> brilliant idea <sarcasm toggled off> of separating the generations. Old people are ugly - we cannot sear our children's eyeballs with them. Take them out of the home and out of the community generally, Put them in retirement villages first, where they mix with "their own kind", then in nursing homes. When they die, don't let the family even see the body until it is made up to look "alive" (I've never seen a corpse that ever looked alive), must less, allow people who loved the dead wash down the body and dig the hole themselves as a final act of love. Cultures that still do those things don't have a problem with psychological problems due to death and extended grieving to anywhere near our death-sanitised society's extent.

I have picked out the music I want played at my ceremony (my body is to be scavenged for any reuseable living tissues, so hopefully there won't be much to bury). It is a negro spiritual performed by a defunct Australian a-capella girl group called Blindman's Holiday, the song is "dig my grave". It's a boppy, upbeat, rejoicing type of song. The lyrics are something like

Dig my grave, so deep and so narrow,
Make my coffin so neat and so strong.
Lord, if I do-do, and I do my head
And I do-do, and I do my feet
And I do-do, do it all, whenever I die.
Oh, my little soul's gonna shine like a star
Upon Mount Calvary.

- with lots of repeats. My funeral/cremation/ceremony? A bloody big, happy party! Absolutely!

As to suicide, I am pro-life. We deserve a life. We deserve a good life. And we deserve to be in control of our lives, and the time, place and manner of our death.

About two years ago now, I had a neurological incident. I recovered quickly, although I am still damaged or mentally incapacitated by it, and I've recently seen a slight deterioration. There was, however, a slab of time on that evening when I couldn't speak, couldn't move, couldn't even hear. I couldn't so much as move my eyeballs in their sockets or blink my eyes. If I hadn't spontaneously recovered, I could have spent the rest of my life in that state, locked in a body, thinking like me, but utterly unable to respond to anything.

Now, prior to that incident, I had believed I'd never want to live like that. I believed I'd want the plug pulled. But when it actually happened, if only for a short time, an unholy joy crept over me. I could see and I could think, but no one knew. I'd never be expected to cook or clean or earn money or pay a bill ever again. I wouldn't even have to wipe my own arse ever again! And at that moment, being "locked in my body" suddenly seemed like the greatest freedom that could possibly happen to anyone.

But then my hearing came back, and after it, movement. Immediately afterwards, I thought about that revelation, the ultimate freedom of being locked in an unresponsive body. Yeah, I would love it. Total abdication of responsibility, coupled with time to think - bliss! But what happens after a few weeks or months or even years, when I get bored? How can I then indicate to someone that I've changed my mind, I want the ventilator switched off? Answer: I can't. Which is why I'm a not-for-rescusitation patient, every time. And now that I don't have any economically dependent children, I really don't have to live for anybody else's benefit.

Death is not an issue for me at all. That nasty bit before it, where I could be horribly sick or in agony, definitely is. So yup, bring on the pain relief, bring on the drugs. And the last person out of the room gets to turn off the ventilator, thanks.

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