Is Death a Relief?

WARNING: in case the title of this post wasn’t telling enough, I am going to be writing about death and dying in this post. If you aren’t in a place to engage with this topic right now, I will not feel bad at all if you table it for another time, or just skip it altogether. And if you are experiencing any thoughts of harming yourself, you can call or text the Suicide Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 and connect with a trained counselor 24/7.

A few weeks ago, we drove about 75 miles to the coast to attend the memorial service for my husband’s cousin. I’ve written before about her passing last fall due to Covid. The ceremony was in the church attended by the family and several people spoke when the invitation was issued. There were many stories told about what a people-person she was, always thinking of, caring for and reaching out to others. Other stories told after the formal ceremony, over food in the meeting room of the church, drifted toward how sick and in pain she had been over the last few years. She had been through a number of surgeries, struggled with weight and disabilities exacerbated by her weight and reduced mobility. In my last text conversation with her, she had spoken about the pain she was experiencing and, while I had no idea the scope of her medical issues at the time, in retrospect it matches the stories we heard at the ceremony. Her family seemed to have come to a feeling of comfort by now that she is now in a better place and no longer in pain.

So I ask, in her case, is death a relief?

This week, we are coping with another pending loss. One of my husband’s dear friends, with whom I have also spent much time going on camping trips and other various social activities, has been transferred to the care of a hospice nurse. In the last year, he went from being a normal, reasonably healthy middle-aged guy to his current state after a diagnosis of esophageal cancer months ago. He was undergoing chemo treatments as recently as last week. Because of the location of the cancer, he had been having trouble eating solid foods for a while and actually had some treatments delayed a few weeks ago so he could regain some weight to tolerate the process. Sadly now, none of that matters as it will likely be a matter of days before he passes. He is in his early 40s.

So I ask, in his case, is death a relief?

These are, of course, rhetorical questions. In both cases, lives were cut way too short. In both cases, I am aware of multiple medical decisions having been made that were based on the interest of the medical industrial complex’s financial interests rather than the interest of prolonging the health and life of the patient. This part will never sit right with me. People of means or “better” insurance should not be entitled to better health care, period, and yet that is the world we live in. This is one feature of our society that Covid exposed more so than it was before.

In both cases, my husband and I will hold our memories of these two lovely souls dear to our hearts. For those who are reading this, please keep my husband and me in your thoughts as we work through our grief about these two tremendous losses.

P.S. The Washington Post just published an article this week talking about the rise in rates of esophageal cancer in the middle-aged population. You can find this article here.

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