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On this episode, I talk with The Doyenne of Death, Gail Rubin. She's the author of three books on end-of-life issues. She's one of the first people to hold a Death Cafe here in the U.S. She's the coordinator of the Before I Die New Mexico Festival and an award-winning speaker. Here's our conversation.
Dear Diary, I'm The Doyenne of Death. I believe in the power of humor to get people to discuss and plan for our 100% mortality rate. But you can only laugh about death when it seems like a distant possibility. When you have a loved one who is gravely ill, that is no time to be making jokes about funeral planning. My younger brother, Lee, just spent his 60th birthday in the hospital. He had quadruple bypass surgery and was assured he'd be out of the hospital to recover at home in six days. It hasn't worked out that way. The second night after surgery, he had an event. His blood pressure and heart rate dropped dangerously low. He was placed on a ventilator, kept sedated, and on pain medications. He developed sepsis and the doctors put him on antibiotics and drained his gallbladder.
As I write this, it has been a full week since the surgery and he is nowhere near any condition to go home. The first day after the event, I spoke to my niece, his daughter, "You know I'm The Doyenne of Death, so I have to ask you, do you know what his wishes might be if he dies?" No one wants to think about such a dire outcome. She said he had told her a while ago that he'd like to be cremated and have his ashes scattered in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of New Smyrna Beach, Florida. He loves to swim in the ocean there. At least we know that much.
I hope he will get better. He is walking a fine line right now. I just pray when others find themselves in similar circumstances with family members who could die in the hospital, that they've had the talk. Serious conversations about end-of-life issues conducted before the trip to the hospital can provide light in a dark time. I hope my work gives people permission to laugh and learn and be prepared.