DRIVEL: Opinions and Review
“Deathstyle” -- Celebrating
the Big 0-0! (c)2006
Boomers rebrand mortality
1965, age 20:
"Hope I die before I get old"
Greer Thomas, 2006, age 17:
"People will just schedule their deaths like they schedule
their births with C-sections."
Greer Thomas, 1992, age 3: "How come people don't last so long?" (after finding out for the first time that people die.)
Boomers just don’t wanna get old. Therefore, something potentially amazingly lovely this
way cometh. And I don’t see no way around it, nope.
It’s the final expression of a formula
these people have become used to: We rule. When
clouds formed over Woodstock, boomers chanted no rain. (a
poetic act, as far as explaining who they are: Faith
and optimism, narcissism and grandiosity, primitive belief in numbers.
A powerful and blinkered brew.)
rebrand everything they live through—cuz they feel like they
do everything for the first time. (Or more accurately, the
thing didn't really happen UNTIL they did it.) They
spun all rites of passage: puberty, sex, mating, weddings,
divorce [eg: used to be a tragedy, now it’s a realtor’s
market niche], birth, and even dying, which now has a cottage
industry of artists who can make it lovely.
So what happens when we extrapolate this trend?
People will choose and plan
the time and style of their passing. The lovely things that
only get said at funerals will move to a more popular timeslot that
coincides with the lifespan of the protagonist.
At our "Concsious Passage" rituals--just a generic working title---we’ll get to see our whole circle,
looking as fine as they would look at a memorial.
We’ll get to tell them exactly how much we love them, without,
at long last, any whiff of agenda.. Peace will be made with all who choose it. Slates
will be cleaned. Karma will have its oil changed and wheels
balanced and run smoother.
natural knee-jerk question: Is this selfish? Is
this rude to one’s survivors? Answer: Can we,
as survivors, say with a straight face, “How
dare anyone expect to leave us, rather than being totally
and completely surprised to leave us?”
Pragmatists will be aroused to contemplate
plummeting healthcare costs for Level Four care, cuz Pete Townshend
don’t need no stinkin Level Four—officially, the stage
at which intake and output are no longer independent tasks.
A person’s leaving will become a product
of what they would most enjoy, when they would most enjoy it, and
with whom. In contrast, the way we now manage passings seems to be the biggest abdication of art and design imaginable: As a culture, we leave each other with nothing to look forward to.
I'm a mother and I instinctively want to comfort my babies through their own dying, even after I'm gone. I had midwives at their arrivals, and I would have midwives at their departures, too. That's just a given. Midwives at passing would be musicians who would replace words with music, the language of the liminal space that those departing occupy.
Attendance at one of these passings would be of even greater significance than weddings
and funerals are now. An unplanned, un-produced passing might
register someday as any other ungroomed aspect of life. Odd
to think about. Yet when did birth come to involve music and
lighting and cameras and captions and subtitles--and
even select audience members? ( Don't even think about weddings.)
Look at it this way: Artists would dominate palliative care
teams and have a lot happier clientele. The artists come with sound and light and fragrance. With real live tenderness and beauty, with lullabies to contrast with the machines that go ping.
This is not a joke. The instant
the boomers feel the good sharp wake-up smack of an alternative
to incontinence products—an industry
of producers will be there to do the same for dying that they’ve
done for every other passage.
the deathstyle movement won’t be tawdry. I think it will
be quite lovely. We’ll dump the illogical moral posturing
over choosing one’s method and time of death, and free up
the tons of energy spent in all the sad, closeted things we do to
pretend we didn’t see it coming.
Whoever didn’t see death coming, seems obliged to provide more of an explanation than the reverse.
How will this work? Not sure, exactly. How do
weddings work? But the means to end life peacefully and consciously
and with the same fond wrapping of custom creativity that we lavish
on every other passage – seems more evolved, doesn't it? We're really quite primitive in the way we abdicate showing the dying even 1% of what we lavish on The Bride and her one day feast of the senses.
Think: The randomness
of death is what makes it so annoying to us. We're terrified
it's going to sneak up on us, surprise us with its certainty. We
spend way too much time ignoring it or fighting with it instead
of designing around it. Once again: DESIGNING AROUND IT. CREATING AROUND IT, GIVING CONTEXT, MEANING AND INDIVIDUALITY. Everyone should have one more thing to look forward to, right to the end of consciousness.
IF NOT NOW, WHEN?
It’s there, it’s coming, it’s guaranteed. What
primitive little corner of the brain still believes that not having
an umbrella will stop the rain?
(NOTE: If I get hit by a bus
next week, nope, that was not my idea. Unless there was
a blues band playing at the intersection and I was observed doing
a grand jeté in front of the bus while wearing a t-shirt
saying More Cowbell— no, that wasn't my idea, it was just
good old-fashioned random death.)
Big sincere question: What’s unpalatable about taking
the randomness out of dying?
we go to live entertainment, do we stay until the performers have
removed all makeup and costumes and do we follow them home to watch
them brush their teeth and put on their fuzzy slippers and wait
for them to say “Show's over, time for you to go home now”?
Why do we do this with our own lives? Why do we stick around
until someone has to say “time for you to go now”?
At the theatre, don’t we go when it’s very clearly
over and we’re still nicely dressed for the trip home?
We know we have to go; we just want to pretend
we don’t know.
Yet planning something gorgeous and personal
and decent and free of fear and pain – just seems so consistent
with every other passage that's been re-packaged. Right now,
folks are so busy spewing poetic death metaphors that they
miss their only chance to be the metaphor, to just do it
one time for real.
don’t pretend you thought of all this and said No thanks. You
just never thought of it at all.
All I know is that this is what we would feel free to do and feel
We would take pride in our ability to do this human
thing for each other, to be brave and cheerful, to be maternal, creative and
deliberate, with the definingly human part of ourselves, our dying
ADDENDUM:: Five years after writing this, it has begun.
if: everyone’s life were accorded three acts? And
any time after age 50, one is allowed to plan something lovely for an
exit, and carry it all out the way weddings or bat mitzvahs or quinceaneras are carried out today. (Allowed, not obligated.)
Socializing, food, spiritual metaphors and rituals--or a simple farewell with only family and a blankie and a quiet
Point is that the boomers will find a way to introduce this concept
and I’m so curious to see how they do it. What will
it be called? What will be the first test-case to blast the
whole idea into public consciousness? Who will be the Rosa Parks,
the Roe v Wade, the Karen Quinlan?
Will the practice slide in quietly, via subtle
changes in healthcare and in homes for the elderly? Will there
come to be certain facilities that people “know about”
where you can go to have your party of passing? (Will musicians arriving be a sign that angels are on their way?)
It’s coming, that’s all I know. A family member of
mine kept a substance collection for just such a purpose. She didn’t
have to use it, cuz she was in a great hospice with soft light,
candles, roses, and music, and she snoozed out to the tune of Sunny
Side of the Street..
[We told her Irish jokes and she snickered
with her last few teaspoons of air. I told her that I’d
promised celibacy if I could just make it to her dying in one piece,
without a ticket, at rally driver speed. She really laffed
at that. Cuz I didn’t get one dang ticket. After
many hours at 100mph+.]
She laffed, we put her swimsuit-pinup photo on her hospice-room door,
plus her photo in uniform from her professional life, and we made
sure people knew whose passage was happening there, with as much
thoughtfulness and art as we could.
One of the palliative care nurses told us
that if we wanted, we could put her in an ambulance and drive quietly
out of town to wherever she thought it was pretty and let her breathe
her last breath. People who design death for a living, get it.
Maybe it will be the boomer medics who will pioneer the way. That
would sure make sense.
Hope we can get it together to make this work, and no, I don’t
think the insurance companies should have a problem. Do they
actually believe that a conscious death robs random death of its
right to preside—and robs them of their chance to compensate
families for their tragically unexpected loss? That’s just
goofy, my friends.
See you at my whoop-up!
(Coda for the morbidly fascinated:)
My Whoop-up would go a little something like this:
After the party, the symbolic stuff, the roasts, the peacemaking, the music, the readings, I would retire to some private area
with my Kevorkinator™--whatever person and substance was
necessary to shuffle off this mortal coil. I would have designed this event in some meaningful way. We’d
ring Peter's doorbell and check in.
Some sound or signal would reveal this to the guests,
which would be cause for a major whoop with the noisemakers provided.
A blues band would play some upbeat shuffle and people would go
outside to summer tents. My daughters would unveil the inukshuk
they designed for my marker. Exactly 5'2"/ 57cm. [This
is actually their idea.]
would not be seen again, and would be whisked straight to the nearest
medical school, where students would be amazed at the things I’ve
paid the Kevorkinator™ to hide in my body cavities.
Probably things that blink or make noise or pop up. Or maybe
just little notes: Did you wash your hands? Or
maybe the entire Celine Dion catalog on rectal size i-pod.
The taxpayers will fund this with all the
pension funds I don’t plan to collect.
cartoons from www.cartoonbank.com]