It’s no secret that we are all going to die. That’s a fact stated by science and the impossibility that is time.
However, is it ok to talk about death when the person in question is alive? Yes! It should be part of our “planning for death” conversations with our families and loved ones, what should happen if they die. But sometimes, that conversation is so controversial and taboo that no one wants to talk about it or even think about it.
Why is that? Why is that we are so afraid of talking about something as natural as death? For some, it’s their own morbid truth that they just don’t want to face, coddled by the sham of the daily routine, which tricks us into thinking that we’ll be around forever.
For others, talking about death might be equated to “you’re wishing it” on the person whom you’re talking about or even on yourself. Even to think about it might mean that you’re wishing it. This is reinforced with statements such as: “I shouldn’t be thinking that way” or “I shouldn’t be talking that way.”
This also explains why we have so many euphemisms about dying and death (here’s a list of at least 101) such as to “meet the maker” or “bite the dust.” It seems that we just don’t want to sound too harsh by saying the word “death” or any conjugations of the verb “to die.”
But what if something happens, say an accident, and you or your loved one is caught between a rock and hard place. Say you’re bedridden and in need of medical assistance at least for a few hours a day. Would it be OK then to talk about death? Would it not be OK to say, “Well, it would have been easier if (I or they) should’ve just died than live like this…”
It sounds harsh. It registers beyond harsh, as if the person saying that is indeed wishing the death of the other person, or giving up on life. But in a very sad way, it is something that people think and sometimes say out loud when they are faced with difficult situations. Because, in the end, it is a little bit “easier” to drop dead than linger for years clinging to life, while having no quality of life, moving from hospital to hospital or nursing home to nursing home, only to die in the end from something like bedsores.
And sometimes, that’s exactly what a family member who provides home care for their loved one — a labor-intensive, emotionally and physically-draining job that I do not wish on any untrained person or family member, ever — are left thinking, trying to grasp what just happened to this healthy person who is now stuck in a bed.
While one deals with the fallout of this quick and sudden new reality, I can’t help but wonder how the patient is feeling and thinking. They were independent a few minutes ago and now they are not; their future might look bleak if their medical condition is something that’s irreversible.
Or, maybe they will get better, but will need help from a professional home care person for a few hours each day, at the very least, if a nursing home is not a better and viable alternative. So, in reality, they’re not independent anymore. It takes a lot of guts to admit that one needs help.
Then there’s the “stubbornness factor” and how our society judges these cases. It’s very difficult to tell a stubborn person, who has made their life by themselves, that they need help, that even though they wish they could just go home and be by themselves, they can’t do that anymore.
Furthermore, if there’s no long-term care plan in place, the financial strain on both the patient and the family is immense. What if the family and the patient can’t afford a good nursing home or home care agent?
And society’s views on the issue don’t help. They further complicate things by passing judgement such as:
“How dare you leave the poor elder unattended?” Or “how dare you leave the poor elder living by themselves? That’s why (X, Y, Z) happened.”
“Why don’t you move in with them (and drop your life, your family and everything you’re doing)?” Or “Make them move in with you.”
“Putting an elder in a nursing home is sentencing them to death.”
“Only children who don’t love their parents and don’t care about them put them in nursing homes to forget about them.”
“A nursing home or an assisted living facility is like a prison for elders.”
“Now that the person is old, he or she has become a burden and is being disposed of at a nursing home.”
Instead of offering support, helping and being around to care for an aging person, society passes strong judgement and turns it back towards a whole family in need. Taking care of an elder at home requires that everyone, from their immediate family to that twice-removed cousin to neighbors and friends also pitch in to take care of them.
And while it’s easier said than done — like with anything in life — that is the only way that an elder could live comfortably in their own home, with home care help, and other plans in place. But when there’s no support and the alternatives are few to none, a nursing home might be the right course of action.
All of this depends on the case and the people involved of course. And I can only speak from my personal experience and point of view. But, after living through all of this and doing the impossible to save someone’s life, I am convinced more than ever that planning before anything happens is the best course of action. And you bet your bottom dollar that I will sit my family down, strap them to a chair if necessary, to talk about their aging and end-of-life plans, and have it all written down.
In the end, if nothing life-altering happens and one is lucky enough to just “die in their sleep” like my grandfather did, then there’s no harm in having had that set of plans in the first place.