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Saturday, May 7, 2011

SODD it! The Sociology of Death and Dying

Today, I have officially begun the long (I'm sure by the end it will seem very long) slog through the literature of the Sociology of Death and Dying. I have enrolled in a directed readings class for the summer and, due to the unfortunate fact that I have advanced lung cancer, I thought it well and good to examine my discipline's examination of the topic of death and dying. The idea is to focus specifically on the social aspects of terminal illness - those who have it, those who know those who have it, those who don't have it, but define those who do, and whoever decides to jump into the pool.

Death is sort of an odd thing in our (western) society. We both revel in it (in our news casts and television programming), and hide from it (When was the last time you had a discussion with anyone about death? Not a particular death, but just death? The fact that we will die and what will that be like? Chances are, it has been a while, if ever). So the death of a someone of whom we can speak of as a sort of topic of conversation is okay, but actual death, the fact that we are all going to die at some point, is not quite as attractive a topic. I like to think that if we spoke about actual death more, it would become easier and perhaps instead of fearing the topic, people might find comfort in it. I, of course, could be dead, dead wrong - no pun intended.

On a slightly different topic, since my diagnosis and general acceptance of my cancer, I have been frequenting a variety of cancer blogs - that is, blogs written by those who have cancer. Usually, I look for folks with cancer types that are known to have particularly bad outcomes like mine. I can't help but think there there are differences in the thoughts and experiences, however subtle, between having a cancer where there is a 14% 5 year survival rate, and one with a 97% 5 year survival rate. Anyway, recently, there seems to be a run on my blogging cancer people who are at the end of their treatment options and are either months from death or who have died fairly quickly. One was told on April 22nd that any more real viable treatments were over, she accepted it and was dead by May 3rd. Yuck - Scary - Lonely - Bad on the one hand.... Calm - Happy - Peaceful on the other. Weird dichotomy, I know.

Let me see if I can accurately describe the latter - I do think that, in an odd way, it's good to know that you have a condition that could cause your death much earlier than you had ever anticipated. Because of my incredible family constitution, I always assumed that I would live to be well into my 90s - perhaps even reach my 100s, in relatively good physical condition. I was living as if I would never really die - the idea of death was so far removed that I was living my life in a pretty superficial manner. Small things bothered me. I suffered from depression, often from really stupid things that I took too seriously. I was just led along in life without pay much attention as to what direction I pointed myself. Because of my social location, education, white female, and the relative wealth of the west, one really doesn't have to pay attention to politics or social problems too much. Prices and politicians rise and fall, but day to day survival itself was very simple. Consequently, I was not living on purpose. I won't say I wasn't TRYING to live on purpose, I was, but what was missing was the reality of death...the knocking on the door, living in your body, making you unwell reality of death. Although my survival today is still simple, it has, on and off, been less so. It is also quite likely that as the cancer progresses, my survival will become less and less simple until I simple stop doing it...surviving, that is.

I guess, in an odd way, cancer has forced me to pay attention to life. "Time gets kinda precious, when there's less of it to waste." (Bonnie Raitt). I listen more. I see more. I weigh things more carefully. I am less flippant. I laugh more. I love more. I am savoring life and I am happy.

1 comment:

  1. Actually, I remember having at least one conversation with you about death. In fact, you may be the only person I've ever had a calm, rational conversation about death with, and it wasn't depressing at all. I think you're right that if we, collectively, were able to do this more, things would be better. Maybe not easier, maybe not with less grief or less fear, but better somehow.