I recently watched a powerful documentary called ‘Being Mortal.’ To be honest, it took me over five tries to get through it.
Something I’ve not discussed on this blog before is that my father passed away from cancer in 2011. He was my best friend. In the weeks leading up to my dad’s death, I thought a lot about how people confront the end of their lives, and about how medical professionals address death both from a physical and emotional perspective.
When I was in high school I briefly considered pursuing a career as a doctor. The thing that stopped me (aside from all the science classes, not gonna lie) was that I didn’t think I would be able to look someone in the eye and tell them that their mother/father/daughter/son/husband/wife had died. And having to tell someone that they were dying? At 16 – and even today at 32 – that was not a conversation I could picture myself having. I can’t imagine being the bearer of that kind of bad news.
When you think about it, doctors aren’t trained for these kinds of ‘end of life’ conversations. They’re trained to diagnose. They’re trained to manage pain. They’re trained in the latest surgical procedures. They want to give hope but they don’t want to give false hope. What a delicate balance that must be. How difficult it must be to navigate the emotional issues of death, while trying to address the medical ones. How challenging it must be to prepare a terminally ill person for death.
I didn’t have a lot of interaction with doctors when my dad was in the hospital. I did, however, have a lot of contact with the nurses. I will be forever grateful to the nurses who looked after my dad in his last days. I am grateful for the cans of gingerale they brought me. I am grateful for the extra pillows they offered me when I spent the night sleeping on a couch next to my dad’s room. I am grateful for their soothing voices and explanations and ‘here’s what’s going to happen next,’ because they knew I was scared. I am grateful that even though they see people die every day, they never made me feel like my dad was just another patient. After his diagnosis, my father told me he wasn’t afraid to die. I tried not to be afraid that he was dying, but I didn’t succeed. These seemingly small gestures from those nurses made all the difference, reducing a bit of that fear so that I could focus on being with my dad in his final days.
When I think about what it took my mother to get through those weeks, I am in awe of her strength. When I think about the equally difficult tasks she faced after my dad’s death – practical matters like insurance and bills and papers and such, as well as having to go through his belongings – I can barely comprehend how challenging that must have been. To deal with those annoyances and aggravations while grieving the loss of her soul mate and partner seems like it would have been impossible to get through.
I watched my father die. I was holding his left hand when he took his last breath. My mom was there too, holding on to his right hand. We spoke softly to him and told him how much we loved him and that it was okay to let go. In those moments I was never more aware of the fact that we are all mortal.
If you have 54 minutes to spare, I highly recommend watching this video. It’s difficult but powerful. Link below.