Can Fear and Cynicism Actually Cause Pain?
My wife is getting training in Hospice care. She’s learning about the end of life issues that people deal with, and has an excellent teacher with much experience in this regard. This is particularly relevant to us now, because my mother passed away recently and received hospice care at the end of her life.
A few evenings ago Lindea shared with me some of what she had learned earlier that day. And something she said really got my attention. That’s because it had to do with pain.
I don’t like pain, will do almost anything to avoid pain, and take great pains to keep from suffering. And there she was, talking about how some people, at the end of their life journeys, may be in great pain and suffer a long time for identifiable reasons. I’m not sure if I heard this right, but it sounded like she was saying that, first, one reason for end of life pain is holding on desperately to life out of the fear of dying.
“I don’t mind dying. I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” – Woody Allen
I think of the heroic interventions of conventional medicine to prolong life and ask myself, why? If there’s no quality of life possible for a person, why prolong it? Why not just make people who are going to die as comfortable as possible and let them pass in peace? The answer is, culturally and individually, many people have a profound lack of peace about dying.
My friend Will, in a different conversation that same day, told me that he thought he’d seen a statistic that 31% of Christians are terrified of dying. (I’ve not checked for a study to back up that number. But it’s interesting as an idea, isn’t it?) With all their belief about seeing the Lord and their family (and in some cases, their pets) in Heaven, such a statistic would seem to indicate that many of them are still afraid to go.
Paradoxically, I suppose, this is matched by some percentage of Muslim extremists who are eager to die and take as many people with them as possible. And there are many spiritual warriors in almost all sects and creeds, true believers who seem most eager to die for the glory of their beliefs. But the point remains, and the fact of it. I’ve met plenty of people with a comprehensive story about the glory of the afterlife who are nevertheless terrified of going there.
Other terminal people, if I heard my wife correctly, suffer at the end of life because they have become cynical about life itself, having found no deeper meaning in their own. At first this made no sense to me. I asked her, how would life having no meaning cause someone to suffer at the end of it? Would it not be just the reverse? And she explained that all the things people learn to do to numb themselves and distract themselves from a lack of meaning in their lives stop working at the end of life, and the collected/avoided/pent up/suppressed pain, heretofore held at bay (good heavens, I just used heretofore in a sentence!) is suddenly and overwhelmingly expressed.
She then challenged me, knowing how much I dislike pain. “You’re not cynical are you?” In part, her question was based on the way I can be dismissive of hype and hoopla, of declarations of faith (in matters both spiritual and mundane) ungrounded in my sense of reality and desire for truth. I replied, “No, honey, but there are times and places where I’m skeptical.”
That’s the truth. While I’m a hopeful person, and my life is filled with meaning, still I question the meaning I hear others give to people (anyone who claims to be enlightened!), places (any place that is special because it has special energetic properties) and things (trinkets and talismans endowed with nothing more than belief). Whenever I hear anyone make a bold claim, like “This drink will heal all that ails you!,” or “Say the magic words and the genie in the sky will give you a bicycle,” or “Put all your money into this stock, you can’t go wrong!”) I say show me your evidence. And I’ll be happy to see it if you can show it to me, though I’ll be skeptical that you can. If I were cynical, I wouldn’t believe the evidence even if you could show it to me! (As if you could! HAH!)
That conversation got me thinking about cynicism and the role it plays as an obstacle to positive change. More in my next post, as I explore the interference of cynicism in positive change. Until then, your feedback, comments and questions are always welcome.