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Not Depressed At All

Edvard Munch
Google Art Project, Wikimedia Commons
Death in the Sickroom

Hello, I’m Lynne Hewes. I’ve just finished reading the books on HPPR’s Radio Readers’ fall list—and I’m not at all depressed.

When I discovered that our steering committee (of which I am a member) had chosen the theme of Aging, Death, and Dying for our 2018 fall read, I was a bit disappointed.  Seeing a booklist with titles like Medicine Walk, Being Mortal, and Why Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? made me think, Why can’t we read something more pleasant? 

In addition, another book club to which I belong had just chosen THE SECRET DIARY OF HENRIK GROEN, 83 1/4 YEARS OLD, a novel about life in a nursing home, published anonymously in The Netherlands.

It wasn’t long before friends started calling me, asking, “Are you depressed yet?” Surprisingly, I wasn’t. Instead, I was inspired.

MEDICINE WALK by Richard Wagamese is the fictional story of a Native American father’s last chance at redemption and a relationship with his son. Though the story details their trek toward the spot the father hopes to die in “the warrior’s way,” it’s more of a story about life and relationships and acceptance of things both good and bad than it is about death.  By the end of the book, we remember the boy Franklin’s conversation with the white man who raised him: “ I can’t teach you nothing about bein’ who you are [the old man told him].  All’s I can do is show you how to be a good person. A good man.”  A good lesson about what we need to learn in life—before we come to the end of it.

In his book, BEING MORTAL:  MEDICINE AND WHAT MATTERS IN THE END, Atul Gawande discusses how we view elder care. As he talks about the “miracles of modern medicine” which today allow us to live long lives, he also shares his understanding that most people are more afraid of dying slowly and painfully than they are of death itself. He introduces us to a hospice nurse as she does her job, and he shows us innovations in nursing homes which allow residents actually to experience the life they have left to live, instead of simply remaining “safe” in cold, sterile rooms.           

As we approach “that time” in our lives, it’s good to know that where we end our days doesn’t have to be a boring cell.  Instead, it might actually turn out to be just as interesting and fulfilling as where we spent our younger years.

The final book in the set is a graphic novel called CAN’T WE TALK ABOUT SOMETHING MORE PLEASANT? by cartoonist Roz Chast, who chronicles with illustrations and limited narration the final months of her parents’ lives and her reactions to her newfound responsibility for them.  As a daughter who had to deal with some of those issues, I found it comforting to be reminded that movement into uncharted territory comes to all of us sooner or later, but there are resources to guide us through that territory.

So all in all, no, I’m not depressed after immersing myself in Radio Readers’ Aging, Death and Dying selections.  I’m simply reminded that we are all mortal.  We all want to be involved and interested in life as long as we can, but when the time comes, we can accept that death is just another part of life.

I’m Lynne Hewes, inviting you to tune in to High Plains Public Radio on Sunday, November 11, at 6:00 p.m., for the Radio Readers’ Book Club discussion of Let’s Talk:  Aging, Death, and Dying.