Since my life is currently rather centered around my mom's close brush with death and now her recovery, I've been thinking about the goth view(s) on death and dying, and I wonder how many goths actually are acquainted with at least one aspect of either. We may talk about it, we may act like we know something about it that others don't, but when push comes to shove, how many of us are really ready to stare death in the face? How many of us have already done so?
In my personal experience, the best place to get a real glimpse of death and dying is not in a cemetery or a funeral parlor, but in a nursing home. Since 1984, when I started performing as a belly dancer, I've danced in so many nursing homes that I've lost count of them. In every one, there were residents who were full of life, regardless of their age, illness or disability, and there were others who seemed to have given up on life and were just waiting to die. Then there were those who appeared to be in another world entirely; they didn't necessarily seem unhappy, they just didn't connect with what was going on around them. It was as though their bodies were in the same place we were, but their minds/spirits were somewhere else, often completely oblivious of us. I've often wondered if they were in the process of dying, and had progressed to a level where they were in many ways disconnected from "life" as we know it.
I do know it seemed almost weird and surreal performing such a sensuous, life-affirming dance in a place where we felt death and deterioration all around us; I couldn't help thinking of that phrase in the burial service, "In the midst of death, we are in life." It certainly did feel that way sometimes. And yet, at other times, we felt the life flowing out to us from the audience and then flowing through us back to them. What a wonderful experience THAT is! :-)
Currently both my mom and grandmother are in the same nursing home, recovering from their respective surgeries. I expect my mom will be going home fairly soon (the doctor says her heart is good for another ten years now!), but my grandmother's return to her own home is doubtful. After fracturing her hip, we are worried that continued solo living will be dangerous for her, especially since both her vision and her hearing are deteriorating. My mom thinks it's possible that she might decide to just give up if she can no longer live alone, but we really do not see any alternative, as she is not willing to have someone live with her and doesn't want to live with my uncle and aunt (who live seven hours away, are in their 70s, and also have health issues).
Going through the process of being "in charge" for both my mom and grandmother during this period has been an eye-opening experience for me. It's one thing to "know" that your parent(s) will someday die and leave you, but it's quite another thing to actually see the process happening. I thought I was going to lose my mom a few weeks ago, and it's possible I will lose my grandmother this year. While I can deal with Grandma's death more easily (she IS 97 years old, after all, and we are fond of each other but not all that close), I know it will be both hard and a relief for my mom, and I will have to help her through as much of it as I can.
So, back to the nursing home as a place to get a really good look at one's attitude towards death and dying. From what I've been reading lately, people who know they are dying and have accepted the fact are often willing, even eager, to talk about it to a sympathetic listener. Unfortunately, most of the time their family and friends don't want to hear that kind of "defeatist" talk, believing it to be morbid, and worse, it might actually happen if spoken of. And even more unfortunately, many doctors and nurses refuse to discuss death and dying with patients because they have been taught that health care is all about "winning" them back from death's door. So the dying person either clams up and puts on a "happy face" or retreats inside themselves because they don't want to offend or upset their friends and family, or alienate their health care professionals.
Tomorrow I'm going back up to visit my mom and grandmother. When I do, I will try to be sensitive to the other residents at the nursing center, to see what kind of feelings I get from them. Since I will be in a heightened state of awareness, perhaps I will be able to see a little bit more into their world, and how they relate to the approach of death, whether close or in the more distant future.
How about you? Have you had any experiences with death and/or dying? If so, I hope you will share them here.