Archive for September, 2013

Grand larceny

Posted in Potent Quoteables, The corpse on September 11, 2013 by Diana S-V

Myth… is a language which does not want to die: it wrests from the meanings which give it its sustenance an insidious, degraded survival, it provokes in them an artificial reprieve in which it settles comfortably, it turns them into speaking corpses.

– Roland Barthes, Mythologies

Death, Care, and Praxis

Posted in Personal with tags , , , on September 9, 2013 by Diana S-V

I spend a lot of time thinking about deathcare and the body’s orientation towards death, and I’ve also had the (mis)fortune of recently being able to watch four very different kinds of dying. This article, in which the daughter of a woman who fought for the right to determine the terms of her own death describes her mother’s experience, resurrected memories of those four kinds of dying and what they meant to me.

My maternal grandfather was a very well-respected philatelist, obsessive amateur historian and world traveller, speaker of several different languages, and lover of animals. He passed away in an extended care home from complications of pneumonia with his wife by his side, lucid but suffering from some mild symptoms of dementia and memory loss.

My paternal grandmother was one of the greatest cooks in the universe, an incredible knitter, crochet-worker, cross-stitcher, seamstress, and needlepointer, and never missed an episode of General Hospital or a figure-skating competition. She passed away in a hospice after six months of home care from complications relating to the rapid onset of non-carcinogenic lung cancer. The second-last time I saw her, she was completely lucid and overjoyed to see me. The very last time I saw her, the time I wish I hadn’t actually gone, she was completely unconscious, her breathing laboured, and heavily under the influence of morphine. She passed away shortly after, and to the best of my knowledge, she passed away without anyone at her side.

My paternal grandmother on my stepfather’s side was an active farm wife, gardener, mother to six children, lover of operas and Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals, and made the best potato salad and cream puffs known to humankind. She passed away in the farmhouse in which she had lived for decades with her husband and many family members at her side. She suffered from severe dementia for many years before her death, and although the family pitched in and strived to provide adequate homecare for her once she was unable to do anything for herself, this care was substandard, and she was often in a great deal of pain or kept in unsanitary conditions despite the best efforts of her husband, who himself was suffering from dementia, Alzheimer’s, and the physical limitations that come with being an octogenarian. He refused to allow them to remove her from the farm, and threatened hospital workers with a shotgun when they came onto the property.

My paternal grandfather on my stepfather’s side was an incredible hard-working farmer who loved visits to Nevada to gamble, whiskey, and his farm dogs. He passed away in the hospital in my hometown after some of his children finally demanded that he be brought to a hospital so he could receive proper care. He died surrounded by his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Due to divisions in the family (one side insisted that he die at the farm, the other insisted that his quality of life was more important than the location and wanted him moved to where a care worker could provide him with assistance full-time), he also suffered a great deal in the final years of his life due to complications from cancer that ended up spreading to almost everywhere in his body, and required constant emergency visits at all possible hours of the day due to medical emergencies that, were he in a hospital in long-term care, would have been handled more quickly and with much less pain.

This article is incredibly important (though for the love of all that is holy, please ignore the noble-savage-trope drop in the middle) because it is crucial that we think about what constitutes a good death, a safe death, a death with minimal suffering and maximum quality of life at the level of the individual as well as in the collective imagination, and determine how to put this idea into practice economically, politically, and culturally.

I do not wish to be attached to a machine when I die. If I know the end is coming, and I have determined that my quality of life will be compromised after a certain time, I would like to have a gigantic party for all of my friends and family to celebrate the wonderful life I have had with only the best food, fantastic beverages, music, dancing, films, and reminiscing. Then I would like to choose the time and place and manner of my death, and to have this permitted without restriction. Every one of my body parts that is still viable for organ donation will be disposed of as such, and the remainder will be cremated. I want my ashes in as many places as possible, and while I’m sure that I’ll come up with more locations as my life progresses, for now I can assure you that my atoms will make it to Marvel Lake in Banff National Park, a farmer’s field somewhere near my hometown, and every major body of water to which you can manage to take me.

There is a part of me, a very deep and serious part of me, that has posthuman and transhuman longings and hopes and desires. But that part of me will be trumped, each and every time, by the part of me that has decided what the definition of a good life—and a good death—looks like, and my will to see this carried out. A bit dark for a Sunday night, yes. But we cannot work with theories about life and death every day if we are unwilling to think about our own deaths and what they might mean to us.