Monday, June 30, 2008

Don't fear the end

When a rich magnate like the Tangs scion Tang Wee Sung gets hauled up for organ trading investigations, it made me realise a few things:

1) No matter how rich you are, you will die someday. Death is truly the great equaliser.
2) Some things, money just can't buy - that includes love and kidneys.
3) Despite that, people will go to great, even illegal, lengths to prolong their lives.

So on the third point, I wonder: why?

Do they fear the unknown of death? What lies on the other side of eternal unconsciousness? Depends on your religion and philosophy, you could be in heaven, or hell, or languish in purgatory. Or be reincarnated. Or lie in nothingness - limbo. Why do people want to live on? For their families? For themselves? Are there so many important things to do in life that we panic when the time's up button lights up? What do they not want to give up?

I've thought about this a great deal. What I would like to be done when I am dead, after I am gone. My will is written. All that remains is to think about what to do when it is clear that I am going to die. I am talking about the AMD - Advanced Medical Directive.

My mother signed the AMD on Saturday morning. She is a devout Catholic and had put off signing this for as long as possible until she had as much information as she could get. She talked to us, prayed about it, talked to a priest. And on Saturday, she decided. Her sister is her witness, together with her GP. In the car, she casually told us: "Eh, I'm signing the AMD today. So you all know ah."

Ever-curious, Gillian asked: What is this?

We explained briefly and she erupted in horror. "WHAT?? Don't save Mama? What kind of daughter are you?" she shrieked at me in the car.

It was hard to summarise the debate that surrounds the AMD in five minutes so we left it for now but I have mental note to talk to the children about this.

For I too, have decided to sign an AMD. Even beyond an AMD, I do not plan on seeking active cures/treatment if ever I am diagnosed with a terminal condition. For example, as I told KH recently, if my kidneys ever failed, I don't think I want to seek dialysis.

What kind of life would that be? If I had chronic kidney disease or cancer, I think I would be in pain all the time, weak, unable to travel, unable to eat what I liked. I have a deep fear of needles and dialysis involves needles. Lots of them. Big ones too. What quality of life is that? For me, getting a diagnosis of a failing kidney just tells me that I have enjoyed life to the fullest already, and the end is near, so better get my house in order, say all I have ever wanted to say, write all I want to write and get ready to go.

It's not that I do not treasure life. I think I treasure it too much to live it as a shadow of what I used to live. I may not be a millionaire or world leader with so much to give up and so much to lose, whose death will make a big impact on society. But even as an ordinary Jane with my own simple pleasures, anything that takes even those simple easy pleasures away makes it a life not quite worth living.

Nor would I fight so hard to consider alternatives - eg going overseas to get an organ transplant, seeking radical experimental expensive treatment, going for chemo etc. That would be debilitating on the finances, a burden to the children (even if this were a burden they would gladly bear), possibly an increase in pain and suffering, definitely a decrease in life quality - and for what? Prolonging the inevitable for a few more years?

No, I know that life is finite. It all has to end someday. It's just time to go. I don't think I am afraid to die. I would feel sad to go and to leave my children though. But because of my faith as a Catholic, I believe it is not the end, just a beginning of something more. As a Catholic, I know I would see them again someday. I can think about even seeing them from wherever I am - on one of Cait's fluffy bunny-tail clouds that she is forever drawing. And if I was a good girl in life, I'd even get to see God!

So no, I'm not afraid of dying.

I would seek out palliative care to make sure I was comfortable and as painless as can be, but I would not seek treatment aggressively.

I don't think its macabre to think about all this now even when I am 'hale n hearty'. Its always good to get this sort of stuff into the right perspective before you are blindsided by it.

And I think it's good to research and plan your own funeral. It would not matter to you anymore, (though actually the thought of lying in state in one of those big tacky gilt-edged mahogany numbers really scares me!) but it would to your family members. And when you come from a big family its sometimes best to just get your preference known.

For example, ever considered an eco-burial? I mean, we already leave gigantic carbon footprints in life, how about minimising it in death? So I am considering 'greener' practices like not embalming (which means no wake - not a bad thing, saves money and kachang) and maybe use a simple chipboard casket? Or just a shroud? Okay, okay, my sarcastic brain is taunting me with thoughts of sky burials instead where buzzards pick me off bit by bit. So maybe thats a bit of a stretch...

But certainly an eco-burial/cremation is looking very attractive. And wouldn't it be nice to have an eco-cemetery where one is buried in a landscape with no headstones, using only plants and trees to mark the spot, such as the lovely grounds of Honey Creek Woodlands at a Trappist Monastery? But okay, in land-scarce Singapore, you'd be dug up in 30 years. Which brings me to my brilliant plan of being cremated and stuffing my ashes under some plant so I could go live with Owain. Okay, I can see how his wife might object someday, but haha, this is the best way to annoy a DIL! 'Course, she could always not water the plant and let it die... Or maybe instead of annoying the DIL, I could be scattered in the places I love? A bit in Venice, a bit in the Mediterranean, a bit of me in the Alps, a bit of me in Japan, a bit in Malacca, a teensy bit in the waters off Hawaii and so on.

But if my kids are anything like me, who can keep a placenta in the freezer for more than 2 years and not do a thing, I'd probably end up half-forgotten, perched on someone's bookshelf, for years... Which is also not a bad thing...

1 comment:

The Chengs said...

And why do you not put the placenta to grow something with?

Eh, if I put the placenta in a pot, would it have ants/worms as it decomposes, ah? It most likely would, huh? Unless in the ground.

And if Owain promises you to take care of the Jasmine Plant, I'm sure he'd take care of it, including watering it, lah.