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The death worth living

The book of a gerontologist doctor, Ana Claudia Quintana Arantes, is an open, sensitive and inspiring report, of her experience of taking care of the dying ones. Morte ê um dia que vale a pena viver, (Death is a day Worth Living) is a lesson of courage and empathy.

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The feeling is familiar to anyone who has or had gone through the loss of a close person. You are in a festive atmosphere, lively conversation with a group of people and then someone asks, unaware of the death of your father or mother, son or husband. When you answer, saying that this person died, it’s as if a freezing ray paralyzed the expressions and smiles around. No one knows what to say, they try something like ‘I’m sorry “,” sorry “,” my condolences “and then, with the same frozen smile, they go away and look for someone else to talk. The geriatrician Ana Claudia Arantes, a specialist in palliative care begins her book Death is a Day Worth Living (Casa da Palavra Publisher), describing exactly this scene. In your case however, the source of embarrassment is not the personal grief, but the profession. When someone asks what she does, she replies that she is a doctor. A frequent question that follows is: “what’s your specialty?” She says, “I take care of people who die.” The following is a profound silence. Speaking of death at a party is unthinkable, she writes. “The atmosphere is tense (…) Some people look away, seeking the hole where they would like to hide (…)It’s about experiences like this, and on her dense, deep and sensitive caregiving experience, that Ana Claudia writes. Very openly, with details and emotions. Beginning with the explanation about palliative care and its importance in the face of the destiny which is, after all, the same for all of us: death. Although we do not like the subject, we will all die and the more we prepare for the idea, the better our passing will be. This is the greatest learning from the book: how to help someone (and ourselves at some point) to die.

The book deals with the physical dimensions of the end, the search for comfort and pain control and the importance of keeping consciousness without the suffering of those who are passing. And, of course, speaking of the spiritual and psychological aspects, symbolic deaths, and life after death: the grieving process for those who stay.

I chose some book passages that talk especially about our subject here, grieving.

The one who dies cannot take the life story he/she shared with those who knew him/her and who were important throughout the life.

The pain of grief is proportional to the intensity of love lived in the relationship that was broken by death, but it is through this love that we can rebuild ourselves.

When we definitely lose the connection with someone important, someone who was a parameter for ourselves, it’s as if we were prevented from the ability to recognize ourselves.

Something else that will be missed when someone important dies is the look from this person on us, because we need each other as a reference. If the person I love does not exist, how can I be who I am?

When a beloved one dies, it is as if we were taken to the entrance of a cave. On the day of death we enter the cave and the exit is not the same opening through which we enter, we will not find the same life we had before. The life that will be born from the loss on will never be the same, similar to what it was when the loved one was alive. To get out of this grieving cave it is necessary to dig it out on your own.

Essentially, grieving is a process of profound transformation. There are people who can turn our period inside the cave in a less painful period, but they cannot do the job for us. The most sensitive task of the grieving process is to restore the connection to the person who died through the experience shared with her. The fear, guilt and other feelings that contaminate the sadness period end up extending our stay in this cave and can lead us to very dark places inside us.

It is magical how pain goes away when we accept its presence. Let us look at pain “in the face”, it has a name and a last name. When we recognize this suffering, it shrinks. When we deny it, it takes hold of our entire life.

Attend the doctor’s lecture of the same name delivered in 2012 in a TEDx