Wednesday, November 12, 2008

I've been thinking a lot about death recently.

That got you sitting up and paying attention didn't it ;)

In all seriousness, I have been thinking a lot about it but not my death, just death in general. And in a negative or depressed way, a genuine interest in our (the UK's) psychological approach to death and dying. Honest.

I think we (society) actually have an unhealthy viewpoint about death. I mean obviously no one wants to die and so fear of death is natural. But a fear of talking about death? I think is taking things a bit too far.

You can probably see where I’m going with this now. I wonder how much of our attitude towards death has a knock-on affect on the lack of people on the organ donor register? The next logical comparison I can think of would be a will – who has actually made a will? Come on hands up...I suspect most who have, have either done so because a) they’ve been made to face up to their own mortality (like me) or b) have a dependant which means suddenly it becomes a practical necessity therefore easier to tackle than when it’s merely an emotional concept.

I went to a fascinating lecture when I attended the Manchester study day on transplantation. It was all about death and dying; how we view it, how our preconceptions of death may have an impact on organ donation and on how those approached view the scenario in front of their eyes. Ask a child what a dead person looks like and they will probably stick their tongue out and roll their eyes upwards. How much of that childish notion remains and interferes with what a potential donor family might see in front of them?

How much of our negative viewpoint about death has a knock-on affect on our viewpoint of organ donation? Clearly death is never going to be a positive thing but I’m wondering if other cultures who have different perspectives on the whole life/death cycle would view organ donation differently?

I believe our reluctance to talk about it and face up to it has a negative impact on people when they are forced to. There is no preparation, very little support, and an unwritten rule that you shouldn’t talk about it as you’ll “bring people down”. What about young people who are facing their own death? Where do they go to talk? I had a talk with a nurse at the hospital which will remain with me forever as it was the first time anyone had answered my questions (which I felt terribly guilty for even wanting to know) about dying and had talked openly about it without flinching. It made things far less scary for me as suddenly I felt I wasn’t on my own, facing the unmentionable.

Every now and then I get vaguely concerned at how interesting I find all this but I think as long as I am able to keep it as an interest on an academic level (trust me, I am very much alive and living it up) then I’m allowed to find it fascinating...aren’t I?

It’s one of those blogs where I ask more questions than I answer. Nevermind. I would love your input on this, and to know how uncomfortable it made you reading this post.

And now I’ll get back to doing some more living.


Alice Vogt said...

The thought of death or talking abt death really doesn't make me uncomfortable... maybe it's cos we've been there, faced it head on, and basically 'cheated' our way out of it? Who knows? But it DEF has an impact on people not becoming organ donors...

Jen said...

People don't like to think about death and I think modern society is much more uncomfortable with death than any society throughout history. I think this is because modern medicine means many more people live into old age, for example in the past many people died during childbirth, from childhood diseases, there were no antibiotics, blood transfusions etc. Many people used to die at home whilst now many die in hospices or hospitals and in the past often families were the sole careres of sick people and therefore almost everyone has to deal with or face death very early on, all this has changed.

With regards to organ donation, i think fear of death and talking about death and fear of the unknown e.g what happens to you after you die impact on decisions. I think if society had a more accepting attitude of death there would be more donors.

Tori said...

I don't have any problems talking or thinking about death, I think of it as a natural progression! I do find people don't let me talk about death to them which is hard when I know it would help to be able to vocalise some of the feelings I have.

I think when you have a terminal illness or come close to death it's not seen as such a big thing therefore making it easier to talk about.

It's Her said...

Hmmm, I can see the link between talking about death (or lack of) and organ donors (or lack of) but I'm not sure whether there's a solid correlation.

I say that purely because Irish people tend to have a very open attitude towards death which nearly borders on black humour. We've talked about who'll go first, who gets what in the will, where they'll be buried- the lot! And its not in a sad way, not in a jokey way but more in a light discussion type. But I have noticed my UK relatives wouldn't be so open about it.

And yet we have a ridiculous shortage of donors. It may be down to our system being faulty but I don't believe it's becuase of shortage of talking about death.

Anonymous said...

Hey, I've got my Will all done and dusted. mostly because I have a child. But also because I have known a few friends die in their twenties, which acted as a bit of a reality check.
I like the notion that donating my organs after my death will somehow act as a little kind of extension on my life. Obviously I know it won't actually be, but I like the notion all the same. x

Aunty P said...

Sorry if you've heard me spout about this before but death is still not something we talk about over the tea table, we are very uncomfortable with talking about it at all. I'm sure this affects donation rates because if you don't talk about death you can't talk about donation and then you don't know what someones wishes are should the unthinkable happen. We'd never talked about death or organ donation and then I had to make the decisions without knowing what Steve's thought. I hate the thought of anyone else having to do the same.

Jac said...

I'm sure there is a direct link between not talking about death and organ donation rates. I don't know why we are so uncomfortable about these things..after all, it's going to happen to all of us at some point! I don't mind talking about death but then, as you say, when you have faced it it's different. People don't seem to like me talking about it though! I don't know what the answer is though..

Anonymous said...

The media sells modern society an impossible dream - dirnk a glass of red wine, don't drink coffee, exercise, cut out polysaturated fats - You'll live forever! It's not true and death will happen to us all - but none of us know when or how. It is fear of the unknown. So we hide it away, and don't talk about it, which is where the lack of donor's happens as family's can't know what their relative who's just died suddenly really wanted as they never talked about it.

Death when it comes to a family (no matter how much it has been expected) brings shock and pain and as with everything else we can't know how we will react til we've been there. Each death is as unique as each life.

I always liked the saying 'don't judge a man til you have walked three moons in his moccasins'.

Keep working hard at promoting organ donation, get people talking about life and death. Society changes as individuals do and you are making a huge difference by going out there and talking about death and the changed life that donation can make.
Linda -Jane

Me said...

I agree, people just won't talk about death, go near it and even avoid people who have lost someone because they just don't know what to say.
When my cat died we brought him home from the vets and I kept him in my room with me for a few hours to say goodbye, my brothers thought this was extremley weird and creepy that I had a dead cat in my room. One of my brothers wouldnt go and see my grandad when he died as he said it was scary. Why is it scary? Its still the same person?!
There is definetley some weird opinions on death in our society (or lack of them), and now alot of the popluation live to an old age so we can just distance ourselves from it and not have to deal with it atall.

Anonymous said...

Far from squirming, you've made me think.
I do think there is a very strong correlation between organ donation rates and talking about death. If you believe you are never going to die (or at least not in the near future), then why would you consider what happens to your left overs once you're gone?
I notice that most people who have replied to your post are CFs, and as such perhaps have to face up to reality and their mortality.
Personally, i would much rather talk about death and get myself ready for it. I have my will sorted, registered for the organ donor register, know whether i want to be buried/cremated, what i do and don't want at my funeral; but even my own family find this morbid. I think it's just realistic, and will save them a lot of unecessary stress and upset when i'm gone.
As well as this perhaps having a link to organ donation rates, i would imagine it also leads to a lack of support for those facing death.
Interesting stuff. Glad i haven't read it just before bed though.

Anonymous said...

Have a look at 'The Natural Death Handbook'. It's gives a clear and open explanation of what happens to you before, during and after you die. I wanted to know as it will happen to me one day and, just like childbirth, I find it reassuring to have some idea of what to expect. I really don't think there's anything morbid about that. But I have to say, I can talk evenly about my own death, even my husband's and parents' deaths, but not my children's. My mind just can't go there, so I guess I'm not completely taboo-free! Sue G

Lizzie Swims said...

I think you're right. I found it very difficult to ask my family and friends if they were on the organ donation list because it reminds them of death, specifically the possibility of my death and possible transplant (way in the future, but a possibility nonetheless). I got over it and mentioned it to them and they were all great, most of them saying they were already on list!
But yes, i definately think there is a link, since clearly i'm guilty of being embarrassed of talking about dealth myself. Funnily enough i have no such problem talking about it with CF friends; it's just my "real world" friends and family i have issues with.

Anonymous said...

When I was nursing my favourite patients to care for were the ones who were dying - it gave me an amazing sense of satisfaction when they achieved a 'good death.' The thing is that alot of people find that odd and I find it very hard to explain why I feel that way. When my youngest child has started secondary school I wish to go back into nursing and work in a hospice - we all have to die one day afterall x

suzie said...

I've had a few looks at this post Em and I do have a lot I'd like to say, but the words just don't read right when I try to reply.

Suffice to say I think it's hugely beneficial for the person facing the end of thier life and for the people close to them, to be able to talk openly and honestly about all aspects of death.

Here it was done in a kind of black humour way, where I would be threatened with everlasting haunting if I didn't get the funeral right. It might seem to some disrespectful but it worked for us.

I agree with the other comments on the impact it has on organ donation and can only add, keep up with the campaigning, it gets people thinking and hopefully talking.

Much love.

Anonymous said...

I'm an adult with CF and have always been supportive of organ donation and I'm on the register myself. I've also never considered myself to be uncomfortable talking about death and consider it a part of life.

Recently I lost my sister after a long illness. Her death saddens me as I miss her terribly but I am comforted that she was at peace and that we spent a lot of time together and that I was able to care for her in her final months.

What has shocked me more than anything is that I did not want her organs to be donated - the idea of her being interfered with was too much to bear. I'd previously thought organ donation was such an obvious thing to do and it has shaken me to the core to realise that when it came down to making the decision I couldn't go through with it. I don't regret the decision - she looked so beautiful and peaceful in death and I am glad that she was left in peace.