Two weeks ago I had a wonderful time with Bobby Pickles and his sidekick, Matthew Piazza, doing an interview in freezing weather in a nineteenth-century graveyard near my childhood home. It was so cold! But I loved being there with my two young friends. And when Bobby told me about his devoted care of his dying father, I invited him to share his thoughts here with you. Take it away, Bobby!
There has been a considerable amount of death in my family over recent years. First, my uncle Billy found a spot on his lung; next, my uncle Ricky turned yellow with jaundice to discover he had stage-4 cancer of his pancreas; today, my own father (the brother of my two departed uncles) slowly succumbs to glioblastoma multiforme (the most aggressive form of brain cancer). Three uncles by blood. Three types of cancer. Genetically, I hit the cancer lottery. So, naturally, my recent family medical history has inspired me to come to terms with the reality of death.
Earlier this year, I took a step back from the hustle and bustle of big city life and moved out to the suburbs in order to care for my dying father. I never realized until now how as Americans we shield ourselves entirely from the the process of dying. We refuse to accept our own mortalities. We shop for our food at the grocery store, never having set foot in a slaughterhouse. Gone are the days of the hunter-gatherer. And we can go an entire lifetime without truly experiencing death. But if we do experience it, we experience it in this weird, assembly line style chain of events where the sick person is treated as a commodity to be dismantled piece by piece through the bureaucratic criminality of the doctor/hospital-insurance company-pharmaceutical industry paradigm. We go from hospital to nursing home to hospice to grave or urn. And when we die, we’re dressed up to look like marionettes. Our blood is replaced with chemicals to slow the decaying process. And then they bury that stiff sack of chemicals, which is us, in the earth. And if we are cremated, no one actually views our cremation. So, your ashes could be either you or a few dozen packs of cigarettes.
I have frequent discussions about everything from race to religion to politics with a Mexican friend of mine named Mike who once said, “Blanquitos don’t take care of their parents when they get old – they just throw them into nursing homes.” It’s a complete and total generalization, nothing more than a stereotype, but I believe it to be accurate. We damned white bred “blanquitos”! We must stop disassociating ourselves completely as death unfolds. We mustn’t ship our loved ones off to expire in some godforsaken institution. We should bring our relatives home where they can cross that great divide surrounded by the warmth and admiration of their family. And stop making excuses for why you can’t. That heartless corporation for which you work cares nothing about the welfare of you or your family. And in the end, you won’t recall the project you were working on while your family member was dying, you’ll just remember that you weren’t there for them. You miss out, they miss out, and then you become them. So ultimately we all miss out on our opportunity to make the dying process fun. Which it can be. Believe it or not.
“Dying is a part of life.” I know that’s cliche but it’s true. The process of dying is the counterpart of being born. And just as nine months of pregnancy can be a rich experience, so too can death. It’s a time to talk and learn and share and bond. It’s a time to forgive. It’s a time to have compassion. It’s a time to grow and to reconcile and to live. And let go.
It’s a time of enlightenment.
– Bobby Pickles is Founder/CEO at FAT ENZO and the host of Bobby Pickles’ Podcast.