Is death really a problem?

Well that was much more painless than I’d expected. I was armed and ready to contend with all manner of mythical beasts and the black army of the RAMQ, deep, deep within the dark dungeons of their downtown stronghold. The receptionist was all smiles and jokes when I arrived, but I saw the people in the waiting room, frazzled, forlorn… okay there were only a couple of them, but they looked like they’d been there for hours, staring up at the numeric display, looking down at their numbered tickets, back and forth, even long after they’d memorized every digital dot that made up the laser print outs. Okay maybe I was imagining things. Still – I didn’t have a magazine to read.

Fortunately an agent was ready to see me even before I sat down. Strange. Must be some kind of trap, a methodical plot designed to lull me into a false sense of security. Maybe there was another, darker, more depressing waiting room just around the corner…

Now I realise that I have the right to service in English or French, but when someone greets me or asks me a question in French I consider it rude to answer with a “Yes siree!” – English sounds so brutish and rough next to French, even Quebecois French. Inevitably this gesture is taken as approval to continue the entire interaction in French, which thankfully I can usually comprehend so off we go. Although it involves far too much clicking of keyboards and printing of forms by my amply framed civil servant the process of getting my health card is actually surprisingly straight forward. I show him the documents he wants, kind of disappointed I didn’t need to use the rest of the dozen different pieces of ID and proof of residence I have in my bag of tricks – “Ask me for a bill dammit! How about a pay stub! Come on! I’ve got everything!”

In the end all I’m missing is a signed statement from my employer saying that I’m a permanent employee in Quebec and I’m golden. In the process I’ve officially stated to a government official that I’ve been a resident of Quebec since September 1st so… hello cheap tuition next fall! I got an $8 photo taken, which was a bureaucratic rip off but at least I won’t get in trouble for my head being 0.2% too high in the frame for government regulations. Its a scam but I’ll put up with it. Some fights just aren’t worth it unfortunately.

So I’ll have a shiny new Quebec health card soon with a picture of me with two days worth of stubble and hair that’s been mussed under an aviator’s cap, but whatever, nobody got a date based on how they look in their government ID. At least I haven’t heard of it.

So speaking of health brings me to my main subject for the day,

DEATH

Lovely isn’t it?

On my way to the RAMQ offices I decided to plug in the ‘ol iRiver and listen to a podcast or two. As luck would have it, playing on random I ended up with Radio Lab‘s show on Mortality. The start of the show is very objective and scientific, dealing with cells and biology, but as it goes on it gets more and more personal until it ends with a family, and how they deal with the death of a grandfather. A few days ago a friend on tribe.net made a post about our western tradition of preserving and protecting the bodies of the dead from decay – a kind of denial of death and decay and the circle of life. In conjunction these got me to thinking – why are we as “enlightened” westerners so afraid of death that we all but deny its existence? Almost all of our models and actors are young and attractive, we obsess with looking younger, of being healthier, of living longer, all while we go to great lengths to hide our aging away – to pretend they don’t exist.

I think its kind of fucked up. Yes it makes us uncomfortable, but fact of the matter is we’re going to have to deal with it sooner or later. No ifs ands or buts. If you have family, friends, coworkers – at some point you will have to deal with some of them dying. Some day you are going to die. Nobody plays this game without picking up that card eventually. Guaranteed. So. It makes us uncomfortable sure, but that discomfort is something we’re all going to find ourselves very, very close to. Might as well saddle up next to it and go for a ride, find out what it is and how it works.

For me this is somewhat difficult to do in a sensitive way. I’ve been lucky enough to have been fairly far removed from all the deaths that have occurred around me. All of my grandparents are dead, but I was never terrible close to any of them. They all lived so far away, our relationships consisted of brief summer vacations and the occasional holiday. There have been aunts and uncles, but again much the same thing. I’ve had friends who have lost parents, and I heard through the grapevine about a former roommate who I didn’t get on with particularly well going to sleep and never waking up. But close deaths? No.

So what right do I have to talk about it? Not that much. But I’m deciding, here and now, that when death appears, the spectre of it, that I won’t run away or ignore it. My father has had a few health scares over the past few years, and though each time its turned out fine, it serves as a reminder that some day it won’t and I will have to deal with that.

Aaaaand I don’t know what else to say. Except that I’m interested in death. I think we all are at some point in our lives, as children wondering where grandpa went, as adults dealing with our aging parents, as sudden survivors to the loss of a friend or co-worker. Western society by and large has little understanding and few mechanisms that we still use to deal with these times. Just watching the videos of air accident survivors a few weeks ago proves how ignorant many of us are to this fundamental human fact. Sadly hiding is not an effective defence against the Grim Reaper.

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