Been back since Sunday, and as usual struggling with Time Zones. It has been a relief, to say the least, to not be in the intense atmosphere of the family house with a dying Dad.
When someone dies gradually in a terminal illness, the opportunity exists to mourn them as they fade away. As they progress in their terminal illness, they lose abilities successively, and they are forced to reduce their own expectations of quality of life, in order to accept what is left to them. Effectively they are mourning their own passing.
As a watching relative, friend, or lover, by mourning them before they are dead in the ground, you are best enabled to empathise with their loss so that you can help them take the best advantage of what is left to them. Later when it will get too much for them, they know they can go in peace, without any further obligation to linger in suffering. When finally they are dead, there can only be relief for them, that they no longer have to endure any more pain.
With this long build-up, by the time you get to the funeral, the mourning is all done and dusted. Life goes on, and our own futures have their own fates.
To watch some of my family members persist in states of Denial is more agonizing and stressful than helping my Dad alleviate his shrinking condition. As in the series "Six Feet Under", there are some people who would wait until they see the coffin, before they finally break down in one extravagant, enormous supernova of emotional dam-bursting.
Even as I write, in the quest for fair analysis, it is clear that such people have their benefits too. By delaying their mourning to after the end, they have greater reserves of energy to deal with pragmatic issues that crop up before the death. Their emotional effect on the dying person can act in two ways:
- On the positive side, they may reinforce the patient's ability to fantasize that they are not in fact dying. Fantasy is a useful distraction from suffering, and this is why the Catholic Church's promotion of the belief in "Life after Death" is one of the masterfully successful pieces of genius in that religion.
- On the negative side, they may impose on the patient the onus of outstanding duty and debt to the survivors. This may extend the suffering and increase it by leaving the dying person with the feeling of unfinished business and self-rebukes: "I must try to hang on because you need me to keep on living.... Here I am letting you down... What good am I that I cannot help you after I am gone.....".
There are further extrapolations of these emotions which are constantly exploited by outside parties, commercial or opportunistic. They are best left for discussion in times of general cynicism.