January 30, 2012

Don't Rescue Me From My Humanity

For anyone who follows my blog regularly, you might remember that I posted a long article in October 2010 about the death of my friend Jeanne. The news, and the subsequent reunions with many old friends, got me thinking deeply about a subject that no one wants to talk about: death. Life is short, we will all be in that box someday, and we all should make the most of the time we have and, well, gather roses while we may.

This week I noticed a news feature about the American Psychiatric Association. Long story short, they want to add “grief” to a long list of diseases in the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.  

Translation: When your husband dies – or your sister, or a child, or a close friend – and you mourn their demise – it means you’re mentally ill. Here, take this pill and everything will be OK. (Up to now the official definition of depression has allowed a “bereavement exclusion,” because we all know it’s a natural and temporary condition.)

I don’t know where to start.

At some point in the past few decades we became a society of sissies, looking to the government (or in this case, modern medicine) to save us from every hardship and inconvenience. The dockets of our courts are bloated with petty lawsuits, while genuine worthy cases wait years to be heard. Emergency rooms are burdened with minor boo-boos, while the truly sick are left to ache and bleed. We continually invent new entitlements, new civil rights, new catch phrases to demonize all who disagree. Somehow we feel the need to medicate every weakness, avenge every offense and honest mistake, and turn it into a new type of crime. Excuse me? Who told you that life was supposed to be easy, or that someone else was responsible for your happiness?

When Jeanne succumbed to breast cancer, about 100 people showed up to pay their respects. Most of us shed a few tears at the gathering, and I’m confident that almost all of the others did so either before or afterward. She made our lives brighter by her presence, and now we are all just a bit dimmer for her absence. I, for one, wouldn’t have it any other way.

There’s something about our human nature that we don’t want to display weakness before a large crowd. Our excuse is that we want to be strong for others, but let’s get real: The truth is that we want to look good before the assembled multitude, and we hold it in. And on such an occasion, I’m willing to grant you that moment of vanity. But I also give you permission to let it out.

All of us will get that news, from time to time, that someone close to us has died. A parent, a spouse, a child, a lifelong friend. When that time comes, I sincerely hope that you felt so connected to that person that your life will be forever diminished. I hope you call in sick to work, exhaust several boxes of tissue, and wail to the highest heavens...

...And rejoice with the coming of the dawn, while you cherish your remaining intimates all the more.

What would it say about us, as a people, if our fellows could depart this life and leave no void in their wake? What would it say about me, if I live 80 years and leave no legacy? What if you pre-arranged your own funeral and purchased your own burial plot, and no one noticed but the undertaker?  

This is what makes us human. It’s what makes us normal. Please, I beg of you, don’t rescue me from my humanity.

1 comment:

  1. Sometimes I get the urge to talk to a psychologist and get them to diagnose me with something just so I can refuse to take drugs for it.

    Grow up, America. Learn to accept the nuances of your personality.