It was 5.50 a.m and I wasn’t even halfway through my morning coffee when my five year old, ever so sweetly, said:
‘Mum, I’m going to REALLY miss you…when you die.’
So, before you ask, I will be writing a “Kid’s Questions” on death and dying soon, but for now I wanted to start talking, between ourselves, about death.
I consider myself very privileged to have been around death. As a nurse I have been honoured to hold the hands of dying patients and to have cared for them in their last moments. I will always remember one particular patient; I was the first to find him after he had passed away and that was an honour. An even bigger honour was that fact that I was one of the last people to feed him a few days before that. It was a meal of jelly and ice-cream.
But for the majority of us, and for me, most of the time now, death is kept hidden behind closed doors. Hospitals deal with the act of dying, funeral services with the body and as for us? We normally just keep quiet about it. Why, is death so hard to talk about? Because it’s sad. Damn, it’s sad. And final. But it is also a bit scary isn’t it? I mean, no one really knows what happens afterwards and no one can come back and ‘tell’ us what it feels like to die. Does it hurt? What does it feel like when the heart stops and the brain slowly slips into an oblivion from which there is no going back? Do you know what’s happening?
Yes. Death is difficult to talk about.
But there is an irony in all of this too. Whilst the subject of death is tiptoed around, it is, at the same time, shoved in our faces and pushed up our noses. In a way, we are perhaps more aware of what a violent death “could look like” more than ever before. Movies showing battle scenes with people ‘hacked’ to death, films about murderers with tortured victims, video games where the (young) player partakes in deathly combats for hours at a time, literally blasting other players to pieces for fun. Meanwhile, in the age of Facebook and Twitter, images of mangled bodies from worn torn countries worldwide can flood our feeds and histories every day.
In a society that is scared of talking about death, we sure aren’t scared of whacking violent images of it up on the big screen, nor of our children playing the virtual ‘killer’.
The majority of death images we see through these means are violent. It worries me that we are getting used to this, are we becoming de-sensitized to violent means of killing and dying? It’s more or less normal to see someone die violently in a movie – yet should it be?
I think it’s time we started talking about death to our children and ourselves…without glamourizing or over-dramatizing it.
Do you think we can we do this, or is it simply just too hard? How could we start talking about death in a way that is both healthy and meaningful?