Living with dignity.

Living with dignity. May 18, 2015

My last remaining grandparent is dying.  Cancer, it’s a bitch.

It’s ok, my grandmother was never a major part of my life.  But my mother and her sister are taking care of her and for them, well, it’s hell.  They get to be there and watch her body be eaten away and now watch her mind deteriorate.  I think a lot of people have this binary idea of death in their heads: you’re either alive or dead.  However, in most cases (and every case I’ve experienced) death is a process.  The body doesn’t just stop working, it evaporates slowly – sometimes for weeks, sometimes for years.  Maybe some people out there have had family members go quickly and without this, but I’ve not.

I won’t go into details, but I really admire my mother.  Grandma is becoming unwieldy.  The other night for a time she didn’t even recognize my mother, became hysterical, and threatened to call the police.  Mom is doing right by her mother.  Mom is living with dignity.

The semester is over for Michaelyn so tonight we’re headed down to offer some support.

The situation reinforces what I always say when arguing for the legality of physician-assisted suicide.  Yes, you shouldn’t be able to just walk into a clinic and ask to be killed.  But sometimes there are worse things in life than dying, there are times when even though your body is alive any semblance of a meaningful life died long ago.  In those times I don’t have any issue if somebody wants to take the less painful route.  I don’t see any redeeming value in suffering for no reason and letting your loved ones suffer with you.

Death is ugly, and I’m sure fantasy can make us feel better about it.  Hell, running away from every problem makes us feel better in the short term.  But if we have courage we can stare death in the face, measure it for what it is, and determine the best way to deal with it in the long term.  Lying to ourselves about the finality of death, even as we watch nurses try to ease the agony that god ignores, often keeps us from weighing the real life consequences of the process of death, like getting drunk in order to temporarily be free of life’s burdens without making them go away.

I don’t know how every other atheist deals with death.  I’m not even sure there’s a best way.  I know how god deals with it: the same way he deals with your lawn if *you* don’t mow it.  My family and I deal with death by doing what we can, by trying to ease the process as much as possible, and trying to make an honest and informed appraisal of death for when it’s our turn.  Like exercise, it’s tough at the time, but the next day you’re more at peace with yourself.  It’s like House said, we have the chance to live with dignity now and my mother (and the rest of my family) has that on lock down.

I’m a lucky man.  Even in my mid-30s my parents are still my role models.

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