Have you ever wondered why society in general so often, maybe even most of the time, avoids using the “D” words. Yes, I mean THOSE “D” words: death, dying, died, dead.
Why is there such an aversion to using them anyway?
I mean, they’re just words.
A while back, I decided to start using the “D” words more. I’ve made a conscious effort to do it.
Why this is, I do not know for sure.
When I die don’t say I “passed.” That sounds like I walked by you in the corridor at school. When I die tell the world what happened. Plain and simple. No euphemisms, no flowery language, no metaphors…When I die someday just tell the truth: I lived, I died. The end.
I used to go to support group meetings, (I stopped, but that’s a different post) and whenever we went around the table and did that introduction thing, besides telling a bit about myself, I’d mention that my mother died from metastatic breast cancer.
I stopped saying, I lost my mother to mbc and started saying, my mother died from mbc.
(People who die are not like sets of lost keys or a pair of glasses that you lose and then find again.)
Reactions were different depending on how I phrased it. I always found that interesting.
More recently, when people offered condolences after my dad died, they almost always said, I’m sorry for your loss.
You might want to read, Things People Say at Funerals.
Now, I’m certainly not saying there’s anything wrong with saying, I’m sorry for your loss. I say it, too, especially when I don’t know the person I’m saying it to that well. I’m pretty sure the intention behind phrasing it this way is to soften things up. To soften death up. As if that’s really possible.
I’m sorry your dad died perhaps sounds more harsh, more concrete or more something.
But is that necessarily a bad thing?
I’m just asking.
Recently, I read a really good article titled, Marbles in my mouth: using the ‘D-words’ by Kathryn Mannix, a palliative care physician and author of the book, With the End In Mind. (I’m going to have to read this.)
Yeah, even the title of her article, ‘marbles in my mouth,’ is good, right?
In the article, Mannix writes about an experience 30 years prior in which an imminently terminal patient of hers directly asked, am I dying?
The author’s response was, of course not, even though she knew full well that, in fact, the patient was dying.
To this day, Mannix regrets not speaking more forthrightly with that patient because lo and behold, by the next morning, the patient had died. Mannix still carries around a certain amount of guilt for not being completely frank with that patient even though, of course, she needn’t. She realizes opportunities may have been missed.
Last minute, final loving messages perhaps went unsaid.
So, what if we started saying the “D words” out loud more often?
What if we started talking more openly about, instead of avoiding, hard topics like death?
What if when someone dies from cancer (or any illness), we just said that instead of turning into robots and saying, the person lost her/his battle?
You might want to read, Stating a Person Lost Her/His Battle with Cancer Is Insulting.
What if we started having honest conversations with terminal patients and their families about the process of dying, and what if we did it a whole lot earlier in the dying process?
It’s certainly not like most dying patients aren’t aware.
For example, when my mother was admitted to the hospital after becoming gravely ill from metastatic breast cancer, she was aware. Very aware. I’m pretty sure she was even wishing she could move the dying process along.
One of the most moving conversations I observed during those difficult days, was one between my mother and her very kind and skilled doctor who actually got down on her knees beside my mother’s bed to chat. The sight of that alone was enough to bring me to tears. But the conversation that followed was what I’ve never forgotten.
“Why is it taking me so long to die?” my mother point blank asked.
Her doctor didn’t go into denial mode. Or false hope mode. Or clamming-up mode. Or diversion mode.
She spoke candidly and truthfully. She remained in honesty mode.
Even now, I get emotional thinking about it.
“I don’t know, Jual,” she said. “I understand. But your heart is just so darn strong. I’m can’t say exactly how long it will take, but it won’t be too much longer. It’ll probably be just a few more weeks.”
Her doctor’s remarkable response and the manner in which it was delivered, took my breath away. So honest. So caring. So candid. So full of compassion and empathy.
Sometimes people refrain from having frank conversations about death no matter where a patient falls on the dying continuum for fear of taking away hope. Mostly, we avoid the topic altogether whether we are healthy or otherwise.
Where’s that line between reality and false hope to be drawn?
I don’t know the answer either.
Hope can be a tricky thing.
But truth doesn’t need to be.
Maybe if we all started speaking more openly about death and starting using the “D” words with less hesitation, it would make at least some parts of the dying process a little easier for everyone, especially for the person dying.
What do you think?
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Why do you think people avoid using the “D” words so often?
Do you use them?
Why or why not?