“After all, to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.”
– Albus Dumbledore
Death with dignity is probably my #1 social cause, but in many ways I’ve been passive about it. When Brittany Maynard’s recent planned passing made the news, it gave my inertia a much-needed kick in the butt.
I’m not trying to sound brave or edgy or dark by talking about this. It’s an integral part of life, like breathing air or having a head… so I don’t know why our society is so fucking weird about it. We take essential, unavoidable functions like sex and eating and death and mutate each of them into these big festering messes nobody’s comfortable with, then call ourselves superior to “less-intelligent” beings. The ability to understand them is totally there, if we can just work around the sloppy stigma ladled on top.
I’ve witnessed death and its aftermath quite a few times by now, both human and otherwise. Sudden death or terminal illness is, to me, the textbook definition of trauma: one minute your loved one seems fine, the next they’re on the ground, lifeless or unresponsive. Horrifying though it is, that beats helplessly watching a person die by inches, gently or overtly losing the qualities that made them first a personality, then a living being.
If a fight for life is warranted, then hell yeah—throw down! But there can come a point where the fight is just not doing anyone (except maybe high-level healthcare providers and those who don’t like icky unpleasant events) a shit bit of good. Those who believe in “life at all costs” are often, but not always, the same people who hard-sell their version of The Truth about what comes next after we’re done here. So if the realm that awaits is so glorious, why do they have the hardest time with right-here, right-now death? A related sentiment I seriously don’t get is the insistence that the right-to-die concept is playing God. Whoa, wait… allowing nature to take its course is “playing God,” but keeping a body functioning solely by inserted machines and chemicals somehow isn’t?? There’s a big steaming pile of egregiously faulty logic.
We’ve had The Talk in our family, and know each other’s wishes. It’s highly unlikely any of our passings will give rise to cyclone fences stuffed with bouquets or tacky memorial car decals in all-caps Gothic script, for which we’re each deeply grateful. The important part is that the loved one is either fighting or free according to their wishes, and that the others can ensure those wishes are honored. Going by my family history, longevity isn’t in the cards for me. That in itself is fine; what scares me is *how* it might happen. I’m going to have a say in that “how,” hopefully with a measure of the clarity and dignity Brittany displayed in her last days.