This past summer, while we were in Dublin, we were waiting on a street corner for a tour bus to take us on the adventure for the day. About a foot away, in the street, was a group of pigeons pecking happily at the street. The cars drove around the pigeons as they went by, until all of us watching (and not watching) heard a loud popping sound. Gab and Bec went pale as it took a few seconds for the entire crowd to realize the sound went along with what we saw – one of the cars rode over one of the bird, and the popping sound was its body. The other pigeons scattered immediately, and then about 5 seconds later flew back to their same spots and continued pecking at the ground as if nothing had happened. We tried to make light of the situation, but there was nothing humorous about seeing a life blotted out in that manner. The short-term goal was for this not to become a traumatic event and ruin the day.
In the midst of all of this, a little child walked to the end of the curb, pointed at the mess on the ground, and began to ask innocent questions, fascinated by what happened. The “adults” all tried to hide the child’ eyes and change the topic, only to have the youngster break away and look at the dead pigeon.
The interesting thing is that child most likely saw death for the first time that day. There was no tempering of society, religion or family to dissuade the child from being aghast at what they saw. Here was a circle of life event, natural all living beings on this planet, yet minimally discussed. We have a tendency to make up euphemisms for things we are uncomfortable to name outright. For example, we have a friend that referred to a certain body part as a WooWoo, where the “oo” part rhymes with mu-mu, instead of the longer train sound. Euphemisms for death / dying / dead include:
- He’s in G-d’s hands now
- She has passed
- They’ve gone to a better place
- Rode off into the sunset
- They are with the angels now
- Sleeps with the fishes
- He bought the farm
- She is on her last legs
- Take the last train to glory
Really? If you look at that list, or any similar one, the phrases, taken at face value, would be humorous.
Last Tuesday, Debbie and I went to a panel discussion with her mother on how to discuss death. The basis for the panel was that we tend to avoid this conversation. I have made no bones about it (pun intended) to our girls that when I die, put me in a plain pine box and stick me in the ground. However, we did not have a discussion on where I end up, how the ceremony should be held and the what-ifs related to me being hospitalized and unable to make decisions for myself. Most of us do not want to die. Most of us do not want to see other people die. Most of us do not want to focus on death. We value life, so death, as the absence of life, is not desirable. One point that the panel made had a big impact on me – when faced with heroic measures / resuscitate decisions, do we decide what is our best interest or the patients? At some point, we all have to face that tough question.