By, Renee wood
No matter how one chooses to die, whether it’s by taking their own life before they deem their condition “undignified”, or whether one chooses to let nature take its natural course – neither is dignified – it’s just death. I would also argue that all the states in life, when viewed in their rawness, whether it be the birthing process, making love, as well as death, all are undignified! Furthermore, just having to live in the confines of the human condition here in this time and space is undignified, but there is something that brings dignity to much of this that I will explain.
Where to start – being born or engaging in sex? The chicken or the egg? I guess I will start with the “egg”. When I discuss each of these things though, I’m initially discussing them from the rawness of the biological process of being born, engaging in sex, living life and dying, rather than why we do these raw acts.
First, let’s think of the birthing process, if a child could let their wishes be known, would the child choose to go through the birthing process in the natural way, if at all? While in the womb do you think he/she would complain about how undignified it’s going to be to come out your mother’s vagina with all that slime, blood and feces possibly. Squeezing out that place can’t be pleasant, comfortable or smell good! And what about how the child would feel about the witnesses observing he/she coming into the world in such a manner? If that child could articulate their desire they might say, “Take me out by C-section or abort me because I don’t want people to see me come into the world in such an undignified manner! Besides that, I’ll be totally helpless dependent on others for my care. I won’t have any control and will have to trust others to care for me – like no way dude, I ain’t doing this”! I believe that the birthing and dying process are the same but in reverse.
Also the fine art of love making that everyone who has hormones seems so eager to engage in – but how dignified is that? You put your hands where?! That gooey stuff. Your tongue where? Yeah that’s real dignified! Let the other person sweat on you as they breathe heavily and mumble things they think you need to hear. Not to mention the raw stench it leaves on one. If you don’t believe the stench, how many people get up and go to work without showering after a long session of sex? And the few that do, everyone knows what they were doing the night before.
Finally, the one state in life people seemed most concerned about than any of the above, is death. As I said in the opening paragraph, everyone speaks of having “death with dignity”, but that’s just an oxymoron. What they really want is their body not to change and become less able to the point of needing assistance from another for personal care, in that, the biggest concern is becoming incontinent and needing assistance to keep clean and dry. Actually, very few people who are dying, live more than a week in needing total assistance (barring no long-term disability that didn’t already require assistance). When one points out that there are those that have lived that way their whole lives, and you wonder if their lives are undignified? Somehow people who choose to live in that condition get a “pass” by those who consider it to be undignified for them. But it can’t be both, it either is, or it isn’t.
The truth is it’s neither. It’s just another stage in life and has no more or less dignity than being born, having sex, or just living in a dying world. What it is really about is feeling in “control” if you have the option to off yourself before diapers! But control doesn’t equal dignity. Dignity just sounds better somehow than “I want control over my death”. The only thing that brings dignity into anything is love, especially by another human being who would be inspired by God not to notice all the yuckiness in the life of the one they love, but to enter it freely and be there through the good and bad.
When one is born, it’s the loving arms of parents waiting to hold, coo, cradle, care for, and bestow their love on the precious newborn that eradicates the unpleasantness of the birth. Of course, the child has no ability to choose, or to remember their birth, so as long as they’re loved and cared for, they will grow-up healthy and strong, probably wanting children of their own one day. I really believe infancy and young childhood is where an individual gains his/her capacity to trust throughout their entire life. This is where one either goes towards interdependence, or total self-reliance to a fault, not trusting that others will help them when necessary.
Love making is beautiful, magical and special, not for the rawness of the physical act itself, but the attentiveness of the two lovers to one another. The desire to spend time in the most intimate way only with that one person, exploring mind, body, and soul of the other because you crave knowing them better and want to be so close that when you carry on with that day, you want the sense, the knowledge, that they are with you, encouraging, loving, supporting and protecting you in all your endeavors. In the same vain, you also want your love making to ensure your spouse of the same things, so you take the time to plan and know how to bring him/her the closeness of you with them that will last while you’re apart. Occasionally a child is conceived to carry on the tangible evidence of the couples love.
Unlike birth, where the child doesn’t have a voice to say what they would want, or in love making where our hormones as well as the couples desire for one another, pretty much erases the rawness of the act of love making, death is experienced in its rawness. Fear and anxiety set in. The fear of being a burden on others is real, having them see you in such a dependant state, and worrying that this will erase a lifetime of memories of when you were vibrant and able from the minds of those whom love you. The possibility of experiencing intractable pain (which happens only a fraction of a percent of people – most pain can be controlled), among many other things that way on the hearts and minds of those facing death. These fears and anxieties cloud judgment, and only allow one to focus on the raw act of dying, rather than experiencing the love of those who are genuinely caring for their needs in those final days. Since they are going to die anyway, some dying feel, “Just let me take some pills and let’s get this thing over with”.
I don’t know much about the mind of God, but it would seem, he gave us a lifetime here to foster loving relationships, to build trust in Him and others, so in our final days on earth, someone whom we’ve known (or many) will be there for as long as it naturally takes to love us out of this world and into the next. Paid strangers in nursing homes, home health aides, and/or hospices can help with SOME of the physical care, but no matter how kindhearted that professional may be, they can never replace the hands or conversation of loved one’s that eases someone into the next world. The love and comfort of those who know the life story of the dying person, and are willing to be there, and endure the dying journey no matter how long it takes, is what truly brings dignity into dying.