Life’s lesson for today is simply this: Nothing is ever easy.
In my line of work, it stands to reason that things won’t be easy. The dying process is difficult, often messy, and something very few people look forward to. As someone supporting those in their final days, I am forever wondering how mine will play out. Not the faith part, nor the part where I end up in heaven, but the drudgery of dying. That is, assuming I do not die in a random accident of some sort or drop dead from a cardiac arrest, I imagine my decline will be typical that of millions of others: losing physical abilities, such as walking, toileting, eating, etc., and then eventually just becoming unresponsive and quietly taking my last breaths (with tons of pain medication on board of course!)
But amid all of that, there’s the practicality of it all. Where will I be when I die? What will my life’s circumstances be like at that time. Hell, we all think we’re going to be perfectly lucid, laughing and chatting it up with friends and family right before crawling into bed and falling into a peaceful sleep for all eternity. We’re all smoking something if we really believe that!
The dying process sucks! It’s hard to do – both for the patient and for those who care about them. There should be dignity in death, just like there is dignity in beginning life. Yet, far too often, people die alone at home or in nursing homes, no family or friends visiting and only a random nurse checking on them every few hours. How many people are “discovered” to be dead, because no one had eyes on them at the time of their death?
I suppose it begs the question: If we (those of us who practice a faith) know where we are going to be in the end, does it matter the process of getting there? If our time in heaven is devoid of pain and suffering, do we remember the suffering we experienced on earth? And if we do remember it, isn’t that itself a form of suffering, which wouldn’t exist in heaven? Which means why or how could we possibly remember it? Whoa, that’s a circle of chaos I don’t have the mental energy to contemplate at 9:30pm on a weeknight.
I can’t imagine we get to heaven any quicker if someone is by our bedside as we are dying and holding our hands as we breathe our last. So maybe the dying process isn’t so much for the person dying as it is for the people around them still living. For a good many of the people I have been with who are actively dying, they seem to be unaware of their surroundings and what is happening – even with their own behaviors. It is those around them who feel uncomfortable and talk about the person “suffering.” It really seems as if everyone else feels they are suffering, and the dying person is comfortable. That said, my lucid self has no desire to be actively dying, restless, in pain, and having difficulty breathing. (Again – more drugs please!)
I don’t know where I’m going with all of this. These are things I think about as I am spending time with my patients, specifically those who are actively dying and are not responsive. The dying process sucks, and our society seems to be trying to do everything it can to avoid it. (To which I laugh heartily because there hasn’t been anyone who’s avoided it yet!) I want to embrace it, whenever the process begins for me. I want to feel the emotions of knowing my loved ones will be left without me – the sadness and fear that brings, but I also want the overwhelming feeling of knowing I will be accepted into heaven and made whole again. That is the part that doesn’t suck, and that is the part that I try to show my patients every day.