Death and Dying

~ R. U. Wacko

My brother did not tell me he had cancer and was dying. He only said I should not come to see him before January. I learned later that his body had failed him. He was very frail. His athletic tennis body was not any more. He didn’t want anyone to visit until he was gone. He had acquired religion. Surprised me some. I guess I would have too. I should have suspected something was wrong. He basically was telling me that it was in His hands (meaning His hands?, God’s hands?), but I did not recognize the language. I thought as a marine he meant he could save himself. You have to tell me that you are dying, and that the doctor says there is no hope, that you only have a few weeks to live – then I will understand the situation.

Soon I had my first real funeral to attend. I had lived forty years and could count the funerals on one hand that I had attended. But, Wayne was my brother. He was only a couple of years older. scary. And, he had cancer too! The big C word was too close. I went to the funeral. I sat in the lounge most of the time. I wanted to remember Wayne as he lived. Family would come out of the room and ask me if I was OK. I was. But, I wondered if they were. I thought the whole funeral process rather gruesome. The casket, body in view, the funeral director, the closing of the casket, music that always brings tears and chokes me up, and the sermon. The sermon does not apply as so often the minister does not even know the person, and the party afterwards I have never understood. I always go for a walk by myself. Sometimes someone comes with me.

“Amazing Grace” has choked me up since I first heard it at my Grandpa’s funeral.

Earlier in life I had to deal with the death of my Grandpa Wesley. He was like a Dad to me. My experiences with death have not been good. I flew back from my new home in the State of Oregon to Oshkosh, Wisconsin for my grandfather’s funeral. My Stepfather met me at the airport and took me directly to the funeral home. We went in and before I knew was happening, I was viewing my Grandpa’s dead body. This man was like a father to me. I loved him dearly. Had planned to name my first-born after him. I was not prepared to see him in a casket. I went immediately out into the foyer of the funeral home and was greeted by the funeral director with, “Doesn’t he look nice”. I did not answer. I just went outside for a walk. Grandpa did not look nice. No corpse looks nice. And, to this day, I do not want my dead body on public display when I depart. It is enough for me to display it when I am alive. Somehow death of a “great” grandfather is more expected and acceptable than that of a brother. You expect older people to die sometime. I just do not like viewing the dead body of anyone. How about a movie clip of his life?

Next I was at my mother’s death-bed. She died of cancer. When a loved one gets cancer, you learn how helpless you can be. There was nothing I could do for her, but visit her. Doesn’t help to know that someone is going to die. The pain is just longer. It must be hard on the person dying. No one talks about it. You can never be prepared for the final moments. She had spent a month or 45 days in the Hospital in Madison when the medicare insurance benefits expired. They announced she may as well go home as their was nothing they could do for her. They had already got all the money the insurance company would pay. My stepfather was not ready to deal with Mom dying. No one could have been. She would fall and someone would all blame her for falling. She could not get up and someone, even a doctor, might scold her for not doing better. They thought she should walk in the hospital and she said no. Family waited for me to talk her into it. They said to me, “Mom won’t walk, you got to make her walk.” I wanted to say call Jesus, but I said nothing. I just collapsed in the chair. A brother insisted I help him help her walk. We dragged her down the hall, he trying to encourage her to put one foot before other, not really realizing her brain was not sending a message to her feet. She could not do better. She would not get better. One doctor said all she had to do was the chemotherapy treatments and she would be making cookies at Christmas. It was not true. Doctor tell little white lies to give hope.
 I was at her side when she died at my brother’s house. She just stared at me and could not speak. 

The cancer specialist told me the truth. Her liver was 95% gone. There was a tumor on her brain and her liver was full of cancer. Her body was full of cancer, and she did not need the dozen type pills she had been taking the past several years.

Stepfather could not cope with her cancer. He had lost his first wife to cancer. He thought the farm had caused my mother’s death as it did his former wife. He lasted about six months and died of a broken heart, loneliness and a heart attack. I was at his death-bed when they unhooked the machine.

My real dad died soon after my stepfather. I was there the night before. The nurse told me his liver was shot after 50 years of chemical abuse. He would drink hair tonic for the alcohol. The night before he died he was in a coma state. I sat there looking at him. I had probably not seen him more than 16 days in my life. He had failed many, including me. All of a sudden he sat up, looked at me, and fell back. He died the next morning. I guess seeing me was too great a shock for him. The last I had seen him I had him placed in protective custody for alcoholism, then a veteran’s home. He died like he lived. He never had anything to say to me except he always had a question that he would ask me another time. I do not know what any of this means. He was a poor Father. I hope I did better as a Dad.

I know that I could not handle the death of a child. I do not know how parents survive such events. I can only imagine the pain. I would have to go off by myself for a while and stare into space. I would like to believe there is life after death. I often do not have hope for it. To me, the above people live on in my memories and of others who loved them and were touched by them. I am a little bit of my Grandpa Wes, my Brother Wayne, my Mother, my Stepfather and my Dad. I can probably drink as much as my real Dad, but I have quit drinking and restricted drinking. It is empty calories, seems to hurt sleeping and encourage heart burn. I think I am most like my Grandpa Wes and Grandma Minnie and my Mom. They had more influence on my life. I hope I am a lot like my Grandma and live to be 98.

Our minds create our individual immortality. Our reality is to be everlasting life. There is no proof of everlasting life. But there is a desire for life to continue forever. No one wants to talk about it. Yet, for medical reasons, we talk about death and life, and our wishes on both. Would you want your life to be a breathing machine? Do you want to be revived by CPR if you are in a non-reversible coma? Is there life after death?

Someone once said something like, “When I die, I want to go on”. That sums up how all men feel. Is it wishful thinking? It is a very basic desire of humans? A wish? A hope? Something manifested in religion? Reality? Probably. Not reality. Possible truth.

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