Death and mourning are on the radio, the television and in social media. Popular? Yes. Uncomfortable? Definitely. Faced with death, no matter who you are, you know you need to be on your Sunday best; benevolent, polite, kind and empathetic. But what do funeral rites sound and look like in modern times?
If you were taken away tomorrow, what do you think your legacy would be? Most of us, it seems, are happy to wait and hear what our eulogist thinks our legacies are. A little late, don'tcha think? I think it's time to lighten up the legacy conversation by creating and enjoying a variety of legacies that you can enjoy now!
Since Mike died I am a one-woman wrecking crew. Unfortunately, my body is the demolition site. On my left forearm I have an deep yellow, inch-and-a-half-long bruise. On the underside, I have an angry red scrape that curls around from front to back. On one palm, I have a wee boo boo. Further down, I have four pink slashes, in various states of healing, across my shin.
Within our human connectedness, what matters the most is something so simple it can almost be overlooked. Something so ordinary in its application that its intense impact can be disregarded. It is simple, but not easy. Unpretentious, yet so difficult to maintain. That's the thing about kindness: it seems basic.
Human beings are not good at predicting how they will react in circumstances that have yet to unfold. Those of us working in healthcare understand that life-altering illness, trauma or anticipation of death can sometimes sap the will to live. In those instances, healthcare providers are called upon to commit time; time to manage distress, provide unwavering support and to assuage fear that patients might be abandoned to their hopelessness and despair. That is the essence of how medicine has traditionally responded to suffering. Stopping time by way of arranging the patient's death has never been part of that response.
While the majority of people haven't found the courage yet to talk with expectant parents about the risk of losing a child, how to survive such tragedies and continue to live, we need to be even more diligent in ensuring that we have experienced specialists in place that are available every time parents are facing the tragedy of losing their baby.
The need for people also to make advance directives (often called living wills) and to discuss them with family is greater than ever as medical technology advances, but there is a serious legal problem. You may have an advance directive signed in perfect health clearly stating your wishes, but if and when you become incompetent, current law in some provinces permits your next of kin or power of attorney to ignore it. Surely new legislation must recognize and prevent this potential abuse that most people would find offensive and unacceptable.
This past week, the Supreme Court of Canada has been hearing an appeal by the BC Civil Liberties Association that could grant terminally ill Canadians the right to assisted suicide. The Court faces a daunting task. Palliative care cannot eliminate every facet of end-of life suffering. Preserving dignity for patients at the end of life requires a steadfast commitment to non-abandonment, meticulous management of suffering and a tone of care marked by kindness. In response to this dignity conserving approach, the former head of the Hemlock Society conceded that "if most individuals with a terminal illness were treated this way, the incentive to end their lives would be greatly reduced."
In August 2010, I was attending week three of a youth conference and found myself deep in meditation, sobbing as if I had just emerged from the womb. Here I was, in the middle of Berlin deep in meditation, with the photo of an older Indian man with long hair and in white robes at the front of the room, feeling at my very core that my life was about to change dramatically.