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  • Writer's pictureAlex Brûlée

The Good Death

In the midst of the Covid Crisis, my mother got really sick. A couple of days ago, she started vomiting continuously, and after a few minutes of nausea she broke out with a fever. We weren’t home at the time, and I needed to ask a passerby to help me bring her to the back of her truck to lie her down before I drove us to the nearest clinic. I know the sentences here are short, but describing what happened is a lot easier than describing how I felt. I apologize for the lack of performance. Most clinics around us were closed or not accepting patients unless they were testing for covid. This created a Catch 22. If she did have Covid, all that would mean was a diagnosis, not any treatment; and if she didn’t, all that would mean was that they couldn’t treat her. Either way, she wasn’t going to receive help. The worst part is that most clinics in the US don’t treat patients until proof of insurance is given- which we did have- but which we hadn’t paid for the past month to my knowledge. Meaning, even if service was available, it would be rejected on financial grounds. No real help. All the nearest hospitals were full. There were no fever reducers in CVS. No Tylenol. No Advil. After an excruciating two hours of rejection, I had to take her home and hope that things would be better in the morning. As I drove in silence, there were so many unanswered questions going through my head. I wasn’t ready to lose my mom, and if she did go, the next questions were so much more complicated. Who was her next of kin? If my mother had something more severe and had passed away, her two underqualified and grieving children would’ve been put in charge of her funeral. Either us, or her estranged family, who haven’t spoken to her in over 5 years. If she was declared brain dead, would she have wanted to be taken off life support? Would she want an open wake for one last goodbye, or would she not want her friends, her children to see her like that? Would she want to be buried in her home country on a family plot, or in the U.S. where her we could visit? My mother, frankly, had no death plan. Now, I’m very thankful to tell you that she’s resting comfortably, and while she’s been sleeping for the better part of three days, she no longer has a fever, and probably has a combination of heat exhaustion and the flu. But that doesn’t make the implications of what happened any less real. Even if you have the answers to these questions, you’ve probably never communicated them to your next of kin- just like my mom hadn’t. Especially now, communicating what you want after life is vital. It makes sure our wishes are preserved, and that our death is in our hands. That kind of autonomy, I find, makes death seem less inevitable, and like something we can control. I was looking up the answer to these questions, and how to fix them, when I stumbled upon the youtube channel of mortician Caitlin Doughty. She makes an excellent point: so many Americans have no idea what they even want in death or after because it’s “too painful to think about,” which rings true. But what is scarier is the alternative: dying without dignity. My mother is such a wonderful, loved person, but frankly, her funeral would’ve been handled by people that either aren’t sure what she would want, or just don’t care. I don’t want that for her. This Death Plan problem is a pandemic, but it is more deadly to some communities than others. By nature, it is more sinister for the Queer Community. Too many people in this demographic have estranged or disowned parents who would become their next of kin. Trans women and men deserve to have the correct gender presentation in death, but it is Humiliatingly Common that conservative parents are given the reins of a trans child’s funeral, and dead names or incorrect clothing choices are forced upon their corpse. This problem is also of concern for people of color or people of religious minorities. Funeral directors are overwhelmingly white and often go for the staple western Christian funeral conventions unless its expressly said otherwise. This problem can even affect veterans who don’t want their service acknowledged in their death (either from PTSD or because of personal beliefs) but have an American flag and rank pressed upon what is supposed to be a family, apolitical plot, or are put in a public plot reserved for military service, not with their families. Death isn’t scary- it’s taboo. But to put it bluntly, something so important to our identities shouldn’t be. There are so many goals and dreams that I want for myself, and for my mom in life. But more importantly, I want us both to have a Good Death. For Information on How to Organize A Death Plan, or even just to start asking the right questions, please check out this Podcast:

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