01 December 2006

the face of death

It's time to make it official: Kris and I are professional house-sitters. When we move out of our Mapleton location mid-December, we'll be moving to my Gabby's Provo home for 4 months (while she enjoys the warmth of Arizona). Many thanks to a sweet, thoughtful Gabby who always takes good care of her grandkids. If anyone is looking for a professional house-sitter in April 2007, the Woods are now accepting applications.

While we were moving some boxes into Gabby's garage, I came across a book called How We Die, by Sherwin B. Nuland. The book gives a physician's view of some of the most common causes of death, unveiling them in a way. A major premise of the book is that death is either romanticized and brushed up through sentimental accounts of peaceful passing, or hidden behind the closed doors of hospitals and rest homes when things get ugly. According to Nuland, they usually do. He goes into detail about cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer's, AIDS, murder, suicide, and old age. The chapter on heart disease scared me. The chapter on Alzheimer's made me cry. Interestingly, the most peaceful death described was that of murder. The human body has developed a defense mechanism against the sheer terror that should grip anybody who is suffering a violent death. By the time the situation is understood, endorphins have already pulled the victim into a sort of peaceful shock. Of course, murder is the cause of death that is perhaps hardest on loved ones who are left living. At any rate, now that I'm almost finished with the book, I'm seriously tempted to try my hand at medical school. At the very least, it has inspired me to pursue some lines of research that are less concerned with understanding my own experience and more concerned with alleviating the pain that other's experience.
Death has many faces. If you want to glimpse the one that will probably greet you at the gate, read this book.

Not to be overly socratic (Socrates often spoke of "practicing" death), but I think this is one of those lessons that time will keep teaching me: life is most meaningful when death is in the picture.