Let’s talk about death
The subject is dying and death, especially for the first of the Baby Boomer generation, many of whom are either now 70 years of age or about to turn 70.
The Boomer generation has been a trend-setter, defying the societal restrictions it inherited on everything from sex to drugs to dodging the draft. Boomers are the most self-indulgent, narcissistic, ego-maniacal generation ever.
Many have inherited or are about to inherit the largest generational transfer of wealth in history. While some will turn it around and give to worthy causes, most will hoard it like no tomorrow. Others who can afford it will invest in various medical marvels that at most may extend their lives by six months or a year.
One thing one can bet on for sure, if funeral home directors are to be believed, few have bothered to do the planning necessary to ensure a peaceful passing that children and extended family will truly appreciate. It is almost as if Boomers think planning for their passing will somehow bring the day the Grim Reaper comes calling just that much sooner.
It’s not as if there aren’t reminders of mortality that bombard the consciousness every day — from graphic news stories about deaths (“If it bleeds it leads”) to pictures of children starving in Somalia or the Sudan, to the obituaries most Boomers have furtively been scanning for several years.
Just this past week, three fine Idaho friends — selfless, dedicated, decent, loyal to family, faith and country — were called to the Big Round-up, the trail ride having ended. They were former State Sen. Mike Mitchell; Duane Jacklin, one of the founding partners of the world renowned Jacklin Seed Company; and Bob Templin, the founder and developer of Templin’s Resort.
Some families are prepared, others are not. The point though is that if one cares about their loved ones and those who survive them, they do the planning, make the key decisions and pay in advance so that the grieving surviving spouse or the child in charge doesn’t have to guess what Dad or Mom would have liked.
Every family should make sure that all are prepared for the inevitable day the loved one passes.
Many folks avail themselves of the wonderful supportive Hospice program. Hospice ought to require every family that engages it, as a first step, to watch and then discuss an excellent movie called “Two Weeks.” It stars Sally Field as the divorced and remarried mother of four who is prematurely dying of cancer.
The movie, which came out in 2006, probes the relationships and reactions primarily of her four children: three sons and a daughter. Each reacts differently. Indeed, the rock is of course the mother. The movie is not pollyannaish — it makes clear that her passing is painful and gut-wrenching.
It even alludes to the fact that the morphine injections she receives to counter the pain toward the very end have a dosage increase that brings death more quickly rather than prolonging the agony.
Yes, it is a form of assisted suicide and one can debate whether it is compassionate or something akin to a mercy killing done to ease the discomfort of the family. It brings home the point that issues surrounding death cannot all be legislated, that room has to be left to respect the wishes of the person dying, the family and their personal clergy.
The mistake made by voters in Oregon and Washington, where assisted suicide is legal, was to get the state involved at all in the first place. Just as we have a constitutional right to life, we also have a right to choose to ease our suffering by seeking a little assistance at the end.
My definition of a natural death does not allow for such assistance, but that’s my faith’s belief and should not be binding on others. The point though is that all families should have these discussions and make the decisions long before Hospice is called in for assistance.
Few Idahoans, and even fewer Americans, are aware that Hospice costs are covered by Medicare, and we all should tip our hat and say a prayer of thanks to the good Sen. Frank Church who led the drive to have Hospice costs covered.
The legislation was passed shortly before the senator died from the reoccurrence of a cancer that almost killed him in his early 20s. Incidentally, the senator eschewed the drugs and painkillers he could have availed himself of and chose instead to take his death head on.
Dying and death are matters that require rigid adherence to the Boy Scout motto: Be prepared. And while you’re at it, do yourself a favor and watch “Two Weeks.”
A native of Kellogg, journalist Chris Carlson pens his column from his retirement home near Medimont in Northern Idaho. He is a former teacher and was press secretary to Gov. Cecil Andrus.