Death is not a dirty word

This week I was saddened to read that Stephen Sutton had passed away. He was a young man who appreciated and made the most of the precious gift of life that was taken from him way too soon. He was inspirational not just because of the phenomenal amount of money that he managed to raise for the Teenage Cancer Trust, but because he did not fear death nor allow his illness to become the focus of his final years. Instead he embraced the life that he had left, an attitude that we could all learn from. None of us know how long our lives will be.

Health is big business. Books and newspapers sell when they carry stories about the latest discovery of a wonder food or exercise fad that promises to help proponents live longer. Why this focus on longevity? It is always desperately sad when a young person dies, but what is so appealing about living to be 120 years old when, with a few exceptions, the human body appears to start it’s terminal decline before we are 80, however healthy our lifestyle has been? As far as I am concerned, quality of life trumps quantity.

I will put my cards on the table here and admit that I am in favour of voluntary euthanasia. I have no wish to spend my final years in a nursing home no matter how well run such an establishment may be. If I ever start to lose my marbles then I hope that there will be a humane way out.

I do not understand why some people fear death. Those who believe there is a hereafter generally expect it to be an improvement on the here and now, unless they have lived really wicked lives in which case they should be sorting that out pronto. Those who believe that this life is all there is expect nothingness when they die; why would that be a concern?

What I fear more than death is the bit that comes just before, hence my support of voluntary euthanasia. Voluntary is the key word here. None of this equates to others making judgements on who should live and who should die. There are plenty of people with serious physical or mental health issues who can find good and valid reasons for wanting to prolong their lives. For those who have made a concious and reasoned decision to go though, I would like there to be more options.

One of the problems with having this sort of discussion is that talk of wanting to die is equated with depression, which requires a different sort of treatment altogether. I am no expert in this area so do not feel that I can offer informed insight into how best to deal with these often misunderstood illnesses. I think that we could all benefit from a better understanding of mental health issues.

What I would like to see considered more openly and seriously is autonomy at life’s end, particularly for the elderly who are often patronised and whose wishes are swept aside or ignored. It would appear that death is no longer seen as natural but as something that we should be doing absolutely everything within our power to avoid. I do not wish to rush my demise and would like to think that I have many more years left on this earth, but I do not see prolonging my life as the ultimate goal.

“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!” (Hunter S. Thompson)

I do realise that this attitude is a gamble that could end up being somewhat selfish. If my choices result in my early death then it is my family who will suffer. Those who are left behind can have their lives altered irrevocably by the loss of a loved one. Voluntary euthanasia though offers the option to discuss beforehand why it is desired. Understanding can go a long way towards facilitating acceptance and closure.

I know that there are many people who, for religious or other deep seated reasons, do not consider that we have any right to shorten a life, even our own. I would not wish to trample on their right to hold such beliefs and live accordingly, but object to having their choices foisted on me.

When I die, whenever that may be, I do not wish my loved ones to wail and gnash their teeth. I want them to look back at the years I had and realise that they were good, that I made the most of my time here. I may not have achieved anything great (although I think that my kids are pretty awesome) but I took hold of each day and I lived it.

“There are infinite numbers between 0 and 1. There’s .1 and .12 and .112 and an infinite collection of others. Of course, there is a bigger infinite set of numbers between 0 and 2, or between 0 and a million. Some infinities are bigger than other infinities. [..] I cannot tell you how thankful I am for our little infinity. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. You gave me a forever within the numbered days, and I’m grateful.” (John Green)

What I do not want is to have my last days coloured by boredom and suffering, by a long and expensive wait for the inevitable in conditions of indignity. If I do not go suddenly and unexpectedly then I would appreciate having the ability to choose the time of my own demise.

Can we talk about death without those who are still alive, who have perhaps suffered the loss of a loved one, getting upset? I enjoy my life and I want to continue doing so. I do not, however, wish it to be prolonged just because this is possible. I choose to live. When the time comes, I would also appreciate being allowed to choose to die.

 

 

Feminism in the modern world

Written for a ReadWave challenge.

“I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.” (Rebecca West)

Emotive words like feminism can be difficult to use. I would call myself a feminist, yet often find myself disagreeing with opinions professed by others who would also describe themselves in this way. For example, I do not believe that everyone should be treated equally at all times.

for-a-fair-selection-everybody-has-to-take-the-same-exam-please-climb-that-tree

There are occasions when I would not complain about a job advertisement asking for a man or a woman; for example, a play or television show that desires a particular gender for a part. For every rule there will be exceptions.

What makes me angry is misogyny, and it is unfortunate that this is alive and well in our supposedly open and free, western society. It is not always recognised or acknowledged, but one only has to look at such examples as the everyday sexism project to understand that woman are not regarded as they should be, that rape culture is prevalent and accepted by many. While this type of behaviour exists, I would argue that feminism continues to be relevant and necessary.

For me personally, feminism is about recognising ability and offering choice based on individual circumstance. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to attend and graduate from university. I studied a subject that interested me (computer science), not one that was typically chosen by women at the time. After a decade of working hard to further my career, unhindered by the fact that I was a woman, I then opted to become a stay at home mother. I do not consider, as some may, that my education and work experience are wasted. I have used all that I have learned in raising my children and conclude that I help and advise them more effectively because of my life experiences.

There are women who are happy to become an attractive accessory for a man. There are women who choose not to marry or have children and who are as capable as any of having a career that society would regard as successful. If these women are able and willing to follow these paths then I would not wish to condemn their choices. Most of us, men and women, will have a variety of aspirations and will have to make compromises along the way as limits are imposed by personal abilities, conflicting desires and individual circumstances. It is only when limitations are put in place due purely to gender that I would see cause for complaint.

Feminism exists because too many cultures have, historically, seen woman as of less value than men. They consider women to be flighty and vain, unreliable and overly emotional; whereas men are considered to be strong and determined, jolly good types to be trusted and relied upon. I suspect that men often choose a man over a woman for a job due to that natural human tendency to go with the known and familiar, to gravitate towards that which we see in ourselves.

All people are individuals and will thrive if they are not forced to conform to rigid, cultural expectations. Abilities exist on a broad spectrum and are fluid; all can learn and adapt as situations change. Problems occur when those in power seek to impose what they see as right for a section of society, when they refuse to accept those who choose a different way.

Societal expectations can be hard to oppose, but this is why feminism still matters. Men can be victims just as much as women with the expectation that they will provide, support and succeed. Feminism should not be seen as putting men down, but as a means to offer wider choice for all.

As we go through life we change. I am not the person I was at twenty or thirty. It would be sad if I was as this would suggest I had learned nothing in the intervening years. There is no ‘one rule fits all’ for men or women, any more than there is just one rule that fits an individual throughout their life.

I guess what I am fighting for is flexibility. Do not expect certain behaviours from me because I am a woman, because I am pale skinned, middle aged, middle class or British. Allow me to be me. I am both ordinary and extraordinary, as are all the people that I know.

We need feminism to stop those in power considering woman as one, homogeneous mass and deciding what is best for them. They do not know what is best for me anymore than I know what is best for you.