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What is death? How much of the process do we truly know and comprehend? It’s easy to say that your body expires, organs shut down, and you cease to be. You can read information on the process of dying and how to reassure the person to make their transition to death easier, and what you can expect from the death if you are present when it occurs. I’ve just always felt there was more to it than that.
I have always had a morbid fascination with death, and am comfortable with the fact it is inevitable. I think that it weirds some people out that I have a morbid sense of humor. I know some people are uncomfortable with the thought of death. I can think my mother for taking me to viewings and funerals when I was extremely young to help me get more comfortable about approaching death. I have seen babies, the elderly, and some of my best friends and family members lying in a casket at the funeral home. I’m not bragging, and of course I grieve just like anyone else does.
So what happens when you die? We only know portions of the story. From a scientific standpoint, we know that your hearing is the last thing to go. Scientists believe that the bright light that people who have been brought back from brink report, is merely your brain starving for oxygen. We know how autopsies, organ donations, and the embalming process works. We know how traditional funerals and viewings work. Being from the south, when someone dies, you are fed for at least the next week.
I personally watched my father suffer from cancer that was in his lungs and esophagus, as well as tumor pressing on his brain that caused him speech difficulties. He laid in the bed in pain, we had to help change his undergarments, much like he probably did us as infants. He was given a morphine drip to help with the pain, and I cherish our conversations we had during that time. He was always concerned about me being hungry or having to go to work. I let him know that I was fine and that I had already talked to work, that I was sure they could get along without me for a while. He was so worried about me not going to work, thankfully I had saved up enough time to stay with him until he passed away. If my wife left to go get clothes or take care of the dogs, he would always ask where she was.
The one conversation that sticks out in my mind was we were talking one night. I was holding his hand and he looked at me and said “If anything happens to me, I don’t want you boys to worry.” I responded back to him, “When you’re ready to go, we will let you.” It was kind of a shock that those words came out of my mouth, and I kind of felt like an asshole saying something like that. It was an instantaneous response, and I know I was just trying to comfort him, but you’re never really ready to let a parent go. I’m glad he’s not having to suffer anymore, I know he braved it out as long as he could (including working up until the day the doctors put him out of work completely.) I don’t like going to work with the sniffles, yet this man would drive to Winston Salem for chemotherapy, drive back home to Wilkesboro, and go to work.
He often downplayed it, other than when he originally called to give me the Dr.’s original cancer diagnosis. He sounded chipper when I talked to him on the phone and put on a brave face. Before he went in the hospital for the last time I remember our next to last phone conversation, and I could tell how much it had really took out of him. I could tell he was depressed. He could no longer drive or go to work and really felt like he had lost all his independence. The last phone call he sounded so chipper and I guess I wanted to believe he was really getting better, even though he knew he wasn’t. Due to the distance between us, it was hard for us to get together, except for holidays and his birthday. I can’t deny I wish I had made more of an effort to see him, even if it was only to prepare myself for what was to come, as selfish as that sounds.
Eventually, his pain increased and so did his morphine drip. I’m glad we got to talk before that and he told us stories about when he was young, and had important conversations. Once they increased his morphine, that was pretty much it, he just laid there in a stupor. We would still talk to him as if nothing was wrong. I was thankfully able to stay at my brother’s house, so I would be close to the hospital. I stayed there Monday until Friday when we got the call that he only had minutes to live. We got there as fast as we could. He was pretty much gone when we got there.
I believe there is some dignity that comes with dying. When I first arrived at the emergency room, I was shocked to see him in the condition he was in. He had shaved his head because his hair had started to fall out, he was looking frail and his speech was slurred due to the tumor pressing on his brain. I knew he was miserable in that hospital bed and felt like a burden on us all. Of course we would do it all over again if we had to. I know that he is no longer suffering from the cancer or the depression he felt over losing his independence. He is no longer in pain. He did what he had to do, and he passed on. Thankfully, he had his funeral all arranged so we didn’t have to carry that burden. I got to see a lot of faces, old and new, some I hadn’t seen since I was a child.
After he was laid to rest, I’m still not sure what happens after that. Obviously your body decomposes. But is there anything after that? I’m not a particularly religious person, so I still don’t know what to believe. Is there an afterlife? Is reincarnation real? No one really knows. Sometimes I think that the afterlife is something we made up to comfort our fears of death. Then I remember I believe in ghosts and the possibility extraterrestrial life on other planets. So who am I to judge others' beliefs? Scientists believe that your brain releases waves of energy after you die, so maybe there is some particle of our deceased loved ones out there somewhere. Maybe they are looking down upon us, or standing over us watching us. Who knows? I don’t, but that doesn’t mean that the curiosity isn’t there.