Battling the Battle

The Phoenix newspaper probably has a higher share of obituaries than other papers in the U.S., because our population skews a bit older than some other cities. There are two striking facts that jump off the page:

The Battle of Minas Tirith.

The Battle of Minas Tirith.

1. Whatever you do, don’t call it “death” or “dying.” I have never seen so many euphemisms for dying. Passing on, passing over, going home, going to meet her maker, going to meet her husband, shuffling off the mortal coil (the writer must have been a Hamlet enthusiast), going to his just reward–the list is endless. But no one dies.

Death makes most people uncomfortable. We like our “stuff” and death means no more stuff. And as a culture, we see very few people die (except on TV). So I can understand we want to make it something else other than the very permanent death.

2. Everyone “battles” a disease. Usually it’s a heroic battle or a long battle.

When my time comes, I don’t want to have “battled” anything. It sets a bad precedent. It pits me against a disease, and I may not want to start a war with my own life. As no one came here to stay, “battling” is going to, at some point, be a losing proposition. And the idea that someone “loses the battle against disease” seems a little harsh. Eventually, it means we are all losers. Heroes that failed. That’s not how I want to look at my life. Or my death.

True,  I have a life-altering, non-curable disease. I am not “battling” it. I am adjusting to it, adapting my life and habits, accepting it, dealing with it, living with it. Diabetes is now a companion, something I check in with before I decide what to eat, how long to exercise, and how much stress I have going on in my life. But I am not battling it. That would be futile. Better to collaborate with diabetes that to struggle against it. I will live longer, feel better, be healthier and not exhaust myself in a “battle” that I can’t win.

–Quinn McDonald knows her days are numbered. She just doesn’t know the number, and is making the most of every day she has. She thinks about death frequently, to get to know it without terror or resentment. And she hopes to live many interesting years to come.


28 thoughts on “Battling the Battle

  1. I’ve been thinking about this post all day…your words have really resonated with me. I had cancer 5 years ago, and I am still here but I know others who are not. Did I fight harder than them? If I die does it mean I gave up? Death should not be a failure, but a graceful end to a life well-lived, whatever its length. I haven’t figured out my thoughts on the afterlife yet. My gran died last year and there are times when the finality of it is almost more than I can bear. I had watched my grandfather die a few years previously and he was content and satisfied with 80+ years of living. Gran fought, every step of the way, but death is inevitable. Having been with them both when their bodies stopped working it has made me feel very differently about death and I wish we were more open as a society to talking about it, the mechanics of it and the emotions. I am not broken by their deaths but it has definitely changed me.

    • The death of those we love changes our lives in many ways. But death is not a battle, and there are no winners or losers. Death is how we exit this life. After that, we don’t know.

  2. Wonderful post! My mom use to say “Everyone has a day and a way.” And once I made that my own, it dispelled many fears I’ve had over doing or trying certain things. For instance, should I die when I try sky-diving…it will mean that that particular day was my day and the sky-diving was my particular way. I find that very comforting. So far neither have shown up, so I’m here to share this with you! lol

  3. I’ve been thinking about this ever since you posted it. We don’t seem to have that many euphemisms for death in use in Finnish. Sure there is a bunch of them – “change one’s diocese” is one quite often used – but they are not often used in obituaries and such. I don’t think it means we are more comfortable with death. It might be simply a question of language and culture since it seems – to me at least – that the English language is full of euphemisms and synonyms.

    About that “loosing the battle.” Now that is not how we ever put it. What we say instead when a person dies of a disease is that s/he died exhausted by a severe disease (it doesn’t translate smoothly). We don’t use that unless the deceased died while s/he was still young enough, under 70 perhaps, and if the illness lasted long enough or was relatively sudden and severe (e.g. certain cancers) so that the cause of death is not something that could be considered natural causes. Anyway, I think that is a rather nice way of describing the situation: s/he was fighting a disease but it was a loosing battle from the beginning (or at least the odds were not great) and everyone knew it and yet s/he persisted for this long. Now it’s over and there is peace instead of the suffering. The saying has much to do with the Finnish concept of “sisu.” Another term that doesn’t translate easily. 🙂 I would use “grit” but read all about it here:

  4. As usual an excellent post. As I am recovering from a “sinking spell” where I was not sure what was going on with my health, I can certainly appreciate your post. I was lucky, just a sinus infection, but with the strangest symptoms. So my mortality was brought home to me…

  5. I’ve been thinking about this post all morning . . . well said Quinn and such thought-provoking comments.

    The only person I have seen die was my mother at almost 97. She always said that she wasn’t afraid of death but the dying process was a bit unnerving. In the end she died peacefully. There was no mystery, I knew what was happening in her body and I knew the moment she left it.

    I guess how we talk about death depends on how we think about living and to some extent what comes after death . . . and that is what’s occupying my mind right now. How I think about the physical and spiritual aspect of life.

    I think living is a wonderful, crazy, chaotic, random experience that is often wasted in pointless activities but death? No-one knows what happens after we die although theories abound . . . so I don’t worry about it. And dying? Having sat with my mother, I’m not so concerned about that either.

    Yes, there are people ‘lost’ to me in my life and I may or may not find them again . . . I feel my loss of them deeply and I’m glad for it because it denotes how much their presence meant to me . . . and their memory still does.

  6. I agree with you 100%. Here too in Wichita KS the word died is rarely in the obits…or in everyday speech either. It used to be that people passed away – now they pass on or worse yet, just pass. Perhaps if she just passed I can catch up with her if I run fast enough….

    Always enjoy your posts. Best wishes, Ilsa Wolfe

  7. This is so very well said! This is exactly how I feel. I have been on the cancer dance floor and that crap (well the treatments for sure) nearly did me in but I was not ‘battling’ or ‘fighting’ it. It was more like it ran me over to be honest. I dislike the use of the word survivor as well (partly because it implies that I ‘won’ the battle) so if people ask I tell them I am a breast cancer initiate. When I was going through treatment I preferred to say I was on the cancer dance floor (and my blog title The Cancer Dancer or something to that effect reflected my opinion). We are so very afraid of death and yet it is the one thing left we all must do. So while I don’t suggest we embrace it, or attract it to ourselves, perhaps we should just accept it. I love the ‘celebration of life’ that seems to be the popular term for funerals though as it feels much more like we are appreciating the person who has recently transitioned to another phase.

  8. I was so blessed to have a Mom and aunts who were not afraid of dying and let it be talked about and seen as a normal part of life. I think part of that came from being brought up on a farm. My aunt at 92 had cancer reoccur and chose not to “fight” it, and just quietly faded into the end of her life with grace, dignity and family around her. Somehow that gives me a great deal of reassurance.

  9. “Into the arms of sweet, loving Jesus!” Did I get that right? Still makes me laugh every time I think about it.

    Many years ago, I had a bad response to the death of someone very close to me. I had a really tough time accepting his death and moving on. Today, when I think about it, I’m almost embarrassed by the way I reacted. I have since lost a couple other people who were just as important and I have a much healthier view of their deaths. Today, I want to live my life in such a way as to honor those special people who passed before me. I carry them with me always and try to do something on a regular basis that they would be proud of.

    Bottom line is they are dead. No two ways about it. I think some people say passed on because they think they have passed onto heaven. I use the phrase “passed” or “passed on” occasionally so as not to sound harsh. It’s definitely difficult to use the words death or died to my husband who lost both of his girls, so sometimes I get in that “passed on” habit.

    I always love your take and views on things, Quinn!

    P.S. I don’t see you as “battling” your diabetes at all. I see you kicking butt and doing EXACTLY what you need to do for YOU. You are winning because of the way you feel. And P.P.S. You look fantastic!

    By the way, can you imagine us together in our next life?!?!?!!

    • And “lost” is one of the strangest terms I think, unless the implication is that you will “find” them later in the afterlife? I understand completely about relating with your husband’s sadness, though.

      • And Marilyn, you know what? I never even thought about the term lost and just realized I used it above. That is a term I use regularly and now I wonder why because I don’t necessarily think I’ll find them again. Something to think about.

        • “Loss” is a strong emotion, and we often don’t find what we lose. I DO say “I lost my father,” and not because I expect to find him again. In Botswana, someone who dies is called “late” as in “my late father,” but it is used in other ways. “Yes, I remember him. He is late.” Nothing to do with time. Also interesting.

      • And just found out why people use the term “lost”, according to the link Pete posted. It means lost vital signs so that works for me.

    • I’ve had to change my words because people get shocked or offended if I say “die.” It’s our culture. We can’t stand the thought of death. Personally, if we aren’t together in the next reincarnation, Traci, I’m not going!

Join the conversation

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.