Being Mortal

I seem to be spending a lot of my time thinking about death at the moment. It is probably the influence of several things:

Aunt had a suspected heart attack a few weeks ago; Aunt in Belfast died last Monday; there was the walk to remember Mike who died of pncreatic cancer; yesterday was Remembrance Sunday; it would be Mother’s 95th birthday 26th November; after hearing him interviewed by Will Self at Conway Hall last week, I bought a copy of Atul Gawande’s book Being Mortal: Illness, Medicine and What Matters in the End.

Celia rang me as I was hurrying off to work this morning to say Gawande was on Radio 4’s Start the Week. I haven’t listened to it yet, but I have checked that it is available to listen to on the BBC On Demand online.

I haven’t read his book either, but I have read the first sentence:

I learned about a lot of things in medical school, but mortality wasn’t one of them.

It’s an arresting sentence; a ‘Hey Edna’ as such sentences were described when I was studying journalism; a sentence that makes you want to read on. I quoted the sentence to Aunt. That might seem mean to talk about death and dying to someone who definitely felt their own mortality tremble last month. However, we have talked about care for the elderly; deaths good and bad; attitudes to dying; and similar subjects a good deal over the last few years, and rather as I thought, she was interested and I promised to buy her the ebook version so she can read it on her tablet where the RNIB have set it up so the background and font allows her to read despite her AMD.

In the talk we attended, Gawande discussed the idea of doctor as hero, how every doctor wants to be the one that saves lives against the odds; a superhuman with a scalpel if you like. That works well with the young and fit, but the desire for happy endings and prolonged lives can mean medical intervention for those whose last months or years could be more comfortable and serene with palliative care.

Most of us don’t want infinite life. I know there are some who are arranging to be frozen so that when the science comes along they confidently anticipate being defrosted and not being able to understand any of the technology in their homes.

What am I saying – homes? They’ll be homeless. Newly undead, out of touch with the world and homeless, unless their bank accounts and homes are frozen too. That’ll help enormously with the housing crisis. I’ll settle for one ending to this life with no encores, chilled or otherwise.

In Colm Toibin’s novella The Testament of Mary there is a description of the risen Lazarus, neither dead nor completely alive, and an embarrassment to his family who don’t know how to deal with him.

I realise I have wandered through this post with thought bumping into and creating new thought, rather like they do when I am going to sleep, so I shall stop and make tracks for bed. I may find the thread of my original thoughts another time, or maybe not.

Advertisements

12 thoughts on “Being Mortal

  1. In actual fact, I understand your post. Death isn’t something we should be scared of, at least for someone like me who believes in the supernatural. Our physical realm is all there is, physical, and God made things with a time limit, that we can not change, no matter how much we try. I hope you feel better now. Sleep well!

    • Thank you Seyi. I slept very well, but you misunderstand me; I was not feeling unwell. I do not share your faith, though Aunt does, we are more concerned with care of the sick and the elderly being respectful of their wants and recognising and helping them to live the life that they choose right up to death; that their death be pain free and out of hospital, unless that is where they choose to be.

      • Oh my, I’m sorry Isobel, I got the post wrong, and I’m glad that you’re ok. I now get your train of thought. When my dad was seriously ill, we were faced with some of the same choices. He died at home, not in an hospital; surrounded by everyone, and that was his choice.

        All the same, I enjoyed reading your thoughts!
        🙂

        • I am glad your father was able to die at home. Hospitals, however good, are institutions that patients and relatives have to fit in with. At home, you can adapt to the needs of the one who is dying.

    • Not about whether they ever will be thawed? It is such a strange idea, but linked to the beliefs the ancients had about the afterlife. The idea of dying frail and in pain, only to be revived in the same state some years hence is not one I find attractive.

  2. Thank you Seyi. I slept very well, but you misunderstand me; I was not feeling unwell. I do not share your faith, though Aunt does, we are more concerned with care of the sick and the elderly being respectful of their wants and recognising and helping them to live the life that they choose right up to death; that their death be pain free and out of hospital, unless that is where they choose to be.

  3. I find as I get older that my own mortality occupies my thoughts rather more than I’d like. The thought of being in an institution and looked after by people who don’t really care about me as a person scares me. I think there is a big conversation to be had about care of the elderly and the dying. Sadly, most institutions only seem to care about the needs of the institution and the bottom line. Not good for the people in their care, especially those who don’t have relatives to look out for them.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s