In three days from now, two years ago, my dad would die. He needed to die, nine months after contracting the West Nile Virus that put him in a state of death-living.
Not that they balanced out those nine months, but his last eight days were sublime, as he went off his “life support” and slipped almost luxuriously, “in his own good time” (see my blog post from May 13, 2013, https://cbmilstein.wordpress.com/2013/05/13/taking-his-own-good-time-to-die/), toward a dignified death, a life-affirming death. For seven of those eight days, he was “unconscious,” but it was clear that he was “listening” or “aware” of his surroundings — the nature and nurture, care and commons, of a homey hospice nestled on twenty-two magical acres.
Since his death, I’ve been around a lot of other deaths — a few life-affirming ones, but most of them deaths made undignified, deaths that only sanctioned more death, unnecessary and unnecessarily cruel deaths: murders at the hands of cops.
I’ve also listened to many stories about deaths, because the stories need to be told yet also held and heard publicly, narrated by those who’ve lost a beloved to these murderous police, made murderous by design of the system of policing. Pretty much every story contains some version of “they died alone,” “they died surrounded by cops,” “I couldn’t be there with them,” “I just want to know how they died.” The details that “go missing” when someone is disappeared to police bullets are part and parcel of these assassinations, the incomprehensible loss, and people’s (in)ability to grieve well. They speak, too, to the complete lack of dignity afforded each and every human being who was shoot by “law enforcement,” then often left to bleed out on the the cold pavement or some other equally macabre killing field.
For how we as a society move toward and communally process death, as cycle in life, is indicative of how we value — in a noncommodified, nonstatist sense — life in general, life for its own beautiful sake, and also which lives in particular are deemed worthy unto themselves.
I’ve noted this in posts and writings before, but a critical ethic of hospice, at least in principle, is to aspire to simultaneously alleviate suffering and elevate quality of life within an empathetic circle of care. That could easily — should easily — sum up what our task as rebels should be, in the daily practices of life and death, health and sickness, resistance and vision. We should steadfastly strive to practice the constant production, reproduction, and circulation of life, including and even at moments of death, not just birth, celebrating all, as midwives of what it could mean to be fully human. And this should be in stark contrast and defiant challenge to the death-generating social structure that tries to keep us dead for the whole of our lives, until it too often, also, kills us.
For as I intimately, tenderly understood as I watched my dad die over eight remarkable days, death, for all the sorrow and rage it produces even under the best conditions, can also and should open up space for reconstruction, renewal — rehumanizing us and the world.
On this second anniversary, I’m more grateful than ever that a small hospice let me be fully present for my dad coming back to life in order to die.
On this second anniversary, I’m more than ever honored to be witness to and participant in explicit “carework,” “griefwork,” and “deathwork” within struggles for a life-affirming world, because everyone deserves to take their own good time to die.
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(Photo by Cindy Milstein, fresh graffiti from first evening solidarity demo in Oakland, CA, for #BaltimoreUprising, April 27, 2015.)