Recently I was at the hospital visiting an old friend. The
jaundiced color, frailty, body of skin and bones combined with the
morphine drip told all this was a final visit. This was a moment of
The conversation dwelt on platitudes and humor. But what is
there really to talk about at such times? Everything has already
been said that needed saying by the way lives were lived, by who
one is and how one made his or her way.
So, in the sterile room of institutional health and diminished
expectations, what can we do but joke and act like nothing
extraordinary is happening? Tomorrow everyone will wake up and life
will be the same except for one slight hole in the universe. One
I have long ago entered the point where funerals have become
more commonplace than marriages. There are friends and
acquaintances that I now see only at funerals. There are those I
catch up with solely to say good-bye.
Such is the blessing and the curse of a long life. If we last
long enough, we get to bury everyone. If we do not, well,
then someone else gets to bury us.
We don't talk about death and dying much in our society. The
subject is taboo. It is almost as if dying is a personal failing.
It has become more private, too. Deathbed scenes with family and
friends gathered around are less common these days. When was the
last time you heard the news reporter announcing the last words of
That's too bad. If death is a part of life, then it must be
good. The gift of life is good, so death must be a gift, as well.
The native people of the far north believe that the wolf is a gift
to the caribou. The wolf was sent to keep the heard healthy. Just
like the wolf, death is a natural part of things. It isn't
personal; it just is.
One of the things I've learned in working with older clients is
that it isn't "if I die," it is "when I die." Perhaps if we could
talk more about this, it might break down some of the false
divisions our society has erected around aging. That we all will
face and deal with death is far more significant than perceived
differences of years or activities.
Not cheerful stuff, I know. But, aging is moving in a one-way
direction. Each passing tells us more about our own mortality than
anything else. This is not good. This is not bad. This is just the
way of life and we must learn to deal with it. Each in our own way
for more than anything else we are survivors. But, only
Aging in Place, it doesn't' happen by accident. And, it doesn't
Scott Funk is Vermont's leading Aging in
Place advocate, writing and speaking around the state on issues of
concern to retirees and their families.