Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Death's Door

When I was in high school, my buddy Bob confided to me that he had figured out a way to cheat death. A big movie buff as well as someone concerned about his "eternal dirt nap", Bob had determined after watching numerous westerns that those mortally wounded seemed to be able to ward off the end long enough to say their last words to those gathered around.

It was as if their sheer clenched-teeth determination made the difference between life and death, Bob thought. So all Bob had to do was fight off dying for however long it took, just like they did in those westerns. Eventually, like a fever, death would relent and Bob could continue living as before.

Of course, the Hollywood-style of the ultimate fade-to-black is nothing like real life. Er, real death rather. While surfing the far realms of my digital TV channel line-up, I came across the movie, “Dying at Grace.” This Canadian-made documentary follows the final weeks, days, hours and minutes in the lives of five terminally ill patients in the palliative care ward at Grace Health Centre in Toronto. And records their deaths.

Most suffered from some form of advanced cancer. Though all accepted their fate, a few continued to cling to the hope of at least a few better days. One woman talked about moving out of the hospital into her own apartment if her latest bout of chemotherapy brought about a remission. It didn’t. Instead it sent her into a downward spiral that brought her to death’s doorway just as quickly as the other terminally ill patients featured in the movie.

Since I still correspond via e-mail with Bob, I had to give him a brief synopsis of the movie. In fact, death in real life is nothing like it’s portrayed in the movies, I explained. At least, in westerns. Death could be more like what you might see in a horror movie, I told him. And I told him why. While Bob knows now that he can't cheat death, he still becomes a bit anxious on the subject of death and dying.

Here’s how Bob responded:

“Damn, just when I thought this post couldn't get any worse you go totally morbid on me. No thanks on the movie; I've never wondered what death actually looked like. Of course, you probably have the Definitive DVD Collection of Faces of Death too. Damn Christopher Coffin, this is getting creepy. Sharing (medical issues) is one thing but I fail to see the audience value in watching people pass. Just Ghoulish, Dave Kevorkian, just ghoulish. BTW, some people like mystery. You should have included a spoiler alert with this post. I know some people like to read the end of a book first but most of us would prefer not to have the ending spoiled! And you a budding O. Henry should have known most readers like the strange, unexpected twists at the end.”

Sorry Bob. I'll be more careful with my movie critiques in the future.


Blogger Elaine Williams said...

Sometimes even when you know you're near death's door, your loved ones still hope for a reprieve. It's not to be, you step through that door anyway, irregardless of who's left behind.

10:15 PM  
Blogger Big Dave T said...

ELAINE--Feelings expressed by the patients' family and friends ranged from outright grief to stoic acceptance and support. It seemed to depend on the age, with the youngest terminally ill resident having the greatest show of emotion and support from his family.

9:08 AM  
Blogger Elaine Williams said...

Hi Dave: I lost a spouse, but as a mother of three, I think losing a child has to be the worst type of grief I could imagine. elaine

9:23 AM  
Blogger Kacey said...

I didn't think about it very much until I turned seventy and now I know that there isn't much left in this life. However, each day is really precious and it feels good to wake up in the morning and know I have another day. I wonder if I would change my mind, if I were unable to do the things I love or were in terrible pain. I keep thinking about the old song---"I'm gonna live, till I die, I'm gonna laugh, till I cry, --- Until my number's up, I'm gonna raise my cup, I'm gonna live, live, live until I die!"

10:55 AM  
Blogger Isabelle said...

Thanks for your visit. I can't believe that none of your commenters from the previous post asked whether the chair was thrown from the inside or the outside...

Ah, by the way, you misunderstand my complaints of busyness. Of course, I tend to write my posts while supervising students who're writing. At the point that I've irritated them sufficiently by leaning over their shoulders, when it's clear they want to be left in peace to get on and I've failed to bring any papers to mark/grade, I compose blog posts. Like the six-word memoir one.

Then I take my marking home and feel hard-done-by.

1:43 PM  
Blogger Lucy Stern said...

Dave, I have to agree with Bob, it is morbid. We all know that we are going to die, but fretting about it will do no good. It is a done thing: We are born, we live our life, then we go home to our Heavenly Father to live out all of Eternity....Hopefully we go to the good place...

Like Elaine says, we walk thru that door into another time frame. Dwelling on death will do us no good. Interesting post.

5:03 AM  
Blogger Big Dave T said...

ELAINE--Agreed, the loss of a child would be the worst. But losing a spouse at a young age is terrible as well.

KACEY--Here, here. I'll drink to that.

ISABELLE--I don't even think a caber-tossing Scotsman could throw a chair from the outside up eight stories and through a plate glass window. The chair was thrown from the inside (and look out below!).

KACEY--Very nicely said.

9:20 AM  
Blogger Betty said...

I think this stuff is fascinating. The experiences of those who are facing death can teach the rest of us how to live and prioritize. Sometimes I think I'm totally OK with death, not afraid of it- then someone I know dies, or my sister receives a deadly diagnosis. I'm still the type who prefers to face it and talk about it, but it can be difficult to find sparring partners.


9:35 AM  
Blogger Babette said...

"Them that dies'll be the lucky ones." ~Long John Silver (Treasure Island)

9:31 AM  
Blogger Lynilu said...

Yes, everyone deals with it in his/her own way, and it is never easy. My husband just gave up the minute he had a terminal diagnosis. I'll probably just ignore it, presuming I have warning. I don't know that I'd fight either way ... to live or to get it over with. But I certainly hope I can keep my sense of humor. I don't fear death. I hope I live to see my family into another generation, because I enjoy life and enjoy them, but no fear.

I've lost babies(miscarriages), parents, husband ... it all stinks. But to your friend, Bob .... your own demise won't bother you as much as the passing of others. :D Quit sweatin' it!

9:33 AM  
Blogger OldHorsetailSnake said...

Gee, as one of those who will die in about 6 months, I think I wanna see this movie.

4:43 PM  
Blogger Big Dave T said...

BETTY--My buddy Bob wouldn't make a good sparring partner on the subject. He'd likely not even get into the ring.

BABETTE--"Oh, the Tomahawk Kid, do you know what he did?
On a cave on Treasure Island
Sixteen men on a dead man's chest
He didn't know where to find them."

The Tomahawk Kid (Sensational Alex Harvey Band)

Don't know what that comment has to do with your comment. I just like that song.

LYNILU--Evocative comment. Thanks.

HOSS--I think you'll be with us in mind and spirit for years to come.

12:28 PM  
Blogger LZ Blogger said...

Big Dave ~ Sorry bud, but I am kinda with Bob on this one... but if I only had six months to live I would be off doing my own "Bucket List" and neither watching nor making movies because neither of those would be on MY LIST! ~ jb///

6:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Having worked as an RN on an Oncology floor for a year, my thoughts/feelings on death changed tremendously. Until my early 30's, I feared death and then I came to's simply a passing over to something else. And I guess we can all come up with what we think that "something else" is. I know I won't be ready for that journey though for at least 30 more years!

2:40 PM  

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