Death and Humanity

I was baptized Lutheran, raised Catholic, then followed up with a bunch of other forms of Christianity. Looked in Buddhism for a bit. Finally gave up organized religion and decided to just live my life right. Now here I am watching this man who stepped in as my father figure when my father (and his family) stepped out. His aortic valve is closing off/giving up and he is obviously in a lot of pain, though they keep pumping him full of morphine. He’s been reaching up and out at something and I keep seeing my family reading into this…..which I won’t comment on because everyone’s entitled to their opinion. However, he keeps talking about our cars and he was hallucinating about working on them. In his last “coherent” moment he was worried about my boyfriend and I’s piece of crap Ford Focus. :`( He has always made sure the families cars were running. Anyway. I don’t even know why I started typing all this. I guess maybe just looking for some support that doesn’t have to do with “God’s will” or any of the other usual dying bullshit. I know the science behind all of this…but I still don’t want him to die alone. He hasn’t said anything in a quite a while at this point. Just whimpering and trying to breathe. It’s hard to watch him suffer like this.

When people talk to me about  Euthanasia or Martyrdom they use the term “a good death”. I have seen enough people die to know that there is no such thing as a good death. There are meaningful deaths and we hope that all our deaths have meanings. It’s why we can accept a man shielding his friend from a grenade. The inhumanity of war doesn’t come into it, the man who sacrificed his life “died to save another”. There is no dying with dignity. There is only living with it.

There is living with it. Unlike the religious I am a beast of life and experience. I have seen too many die, men, women and children. I have sat in the most impotent of rages railing against the injustice of preventable death knowing at this point there is nothing I can do but watch someone’s body fall to rabies.

And even still I know one little piece of faith that I have.

No one should die alone.

It’s because no one lives alone. In life we make bonds with others. Oh some are temporary but that doesn’t make them worthless and some are for your entire life and even go beyond that as you live on in the minds of people as they fondly remember you.

It is hard to watch anyone suffer because you are human. Not “only” or “just” but HUMAN. Empathy is a strength. You feel his pain and his suffering but you don’t know what to do. The experts have done the best they can and you feel that you cannot do something more.

There is no higher authority. No arbiter. No angels but the human ones. And that is scary. There is no safety net and you are acutely aware of that. The religious people think there is one.

It’s hard to watch anyone suffer, but it’s hard to watch someone you know and love suffer because you love them. Because you have all these memories of life together and you don’t want those memories to stop. Because you want more of them. It’s hard to watch people die because not only does it remind us that we will die but also because it’s so out of our control and the gods helped us think that we had some control or that someone else had a control over the uncontrollable.

There are no words that anyone can say that would mean as much as your grandfather being alive. We can offer support, we can offer hugs, we can offer a shoulder to cry on and we can offer to remember him with you. We can listen to you remember him.

There is a saying from my ancestors .To honour the dead you must live. Your grandfather will have taught you things and through those he lives on through you. It is not just the genetics but the skills and the hopes and ambitions and loves. And all those things live on through you.

Pass it on.


  1. Numenaster says

    Perhaps there is no such thing as a good death (although my wife’s was probably pretty close), but there are certainly bad ones. I would consider anything with a lot of pain a bad one. Likewise for a lengthy decline that the patient is conscious of (I’m thinking the early part of Alzheimer’s here but I’m sure there are others).

  2. colnago80 says

    Re Numenaster @ #1

    ALS anyone, where the body slowly becomes totally paralyzed with the brain almost unaffected.

  3. katybe says

    Avicenna, that’s beautiful. And to your unnamed correspondent, hugs if you accept them from a virtual stranger, and I hope things are going/have gone as well as can be expected. If it might be of any help to you, I read this at my grandfather’s funeral, and would like to share the support I got from the words, because this poem is more eloquent than I can ever be in these situations –

  4. says

    Thanks for the helpful words, Avicenna. Hugs to the emailer if you want them. Death is truly terrifying, and to be honest, I have a really difficult time accepting it, especially when considering my own mortality and the deaths of loved ones. But it’s a part of life, one of those things where we just have to live and do whatever we can in this life.

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