Monday, April 4, 2011

It Rhymes with Breath, as in Last

I totally agree with this post by Peggy Bird on Open Salon, when she states that death is the last taboo of American culture.  Heck, sex is all over the place.  You just have to watch a news report on Charlie Sheen and there's prostitutes, drugs and violence all rolled into one overpaid, overcelebrated mess of a man.  And we eat this stuff up.  Don't believe me? Snooki from The Jersey Shore was paid $32,000 buckaroonees to speak at Rutgers.  Her words of wisdom to the college crowd?  Study hard, but party harder. Wow, her parents must be so proud.

Okay, I digress, which I'm prone to do.  Sorry.  Back to death.

I've noticed that when I speak of my manuscript, people will lower their voices as if we are engaging in an illicit conversation.  For some, there may be a superstitious fear that if they acknowledge death, that it will find them.  I used to belong to this group.  If I don't think about it, perhaps it will just go away.  Well, we all know that that's not really an option.

But, avoiding those that are dying is fairly easy to do.  For most people, death occurs in a hospital or an assisted living facility, although there is a growing resurgence of people opting to spend their last days at home.  Unless you work in one of those facilities, you don't face it.  If it happens to someone you know and love, of course you are touched by it and you have to face the truth that most of us would rather deny.  Death happens.  It happens to old people, young people, mothers, fathers, children, pets, sisters, brothers, everybody.  It even happens to people we don't particularly like.

Which brings me to people who happen to be on death row.  If anyone's death is kept behind closed doors and hidden from the public, it is the men and women who are facing execution by the government.  It's easy not to think about executions.  Why?

Because it happens to other people, not to good people like us. 
Those people are getting what they deserve. It's justice.
I don't have time.
I don't want to think about it.
I don't know enough to join the discussion.

But the truth of the matter is, innocent people have been executed.  And yes, so have not so innocent people.  But my question to you dear reader is this, if our culture can't openly discuss death without lowering our voices or running away in fear, how can we allow our government to dole out death sentences and carry out that punishment when the average citizen can't even talk about death in general?

I encourage everyone to engage in this conversation.  State sanctioned killing is a big issue and the more you learn about it, the more confusing it becomes, but in my opinion, it's something we should all be talking about.


  1. I thought differently about the death penalty after seeing The Life of David Gale. On the other hand, our prisons ARE pretty crowded and eat up the tax payers' money...

  2. Love it! This topic SHOULD be talked about more often. I work with people that are dying and one of them dies at least once a week. It is sad, but it is part of life. When someone says "I'm old and dying" I reply with "we are all dying".
    I wish the death penalty should be reviewed and talked about as well as assisted suicide. We treat animals better when they are suffering than we do humans. Death should not be a topic we run away from.

  3. Samurai Dork (Love the name, by the way) the cost of the death penalty is three times as costly as housing an inmate for life in a single cell in a maximum security prison. Now, some may say, well let's just cut down on their appeals and kill them quicker. In my mind, that is not a solution as we all have constitutional rights. There are several men who have spent over 10 years on death row and were later discovered innocent. Check out the innocence project for facts.

    Eric: Thanks for commenting. I know you face end of life issues with many of your patients and it takes a special kind of person to be able to handle that.

  4. Frankly, I think a life sentence is a more severe punishment anyway. I cannot imagine spending the rest of my life behind prison walls. Besides, the death penalty sends such a mixed message: killing someone to demonstrate that killing is wrong. Ironic, I think.

  5. Yes, Susan, it is ironic. Plus, I get the feeling that if someone is going to kill someone, they probably aren't going to be deterred by anything. It's either a crime of passion or they are not all together there.

  6. I guess I never noticed before how taboo death is in conversation. Speaking as someone who wore a ballcap from the Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast to school today ("We Have an Axe to Grind"), I can't say it's quite as touchy a subject in my household. Then again, I don't like it when people I know, like or love die. In general, I'd have to say I'm against it. Suck it, reaper!

  7. I still don't understand who exactly Snooki is or why she's a big deal. I don't really think I'm missing out.

    It is silly how taboo it is, really. It's the one universal thing, besides being born, that we really know connects us all. It's the one experience we know we're all going to have to face some day. It seems like it should be one of the most discussed topics there is.

    It's easier to "debate" the death penalty when it doesn't seem like real deaths. Or when it's a different phrase like "capital punishment." Like the euphemisms we use for people dying in our lives -- "going to sleep," "passing on," etc. It's death. If you're for it, fine, but call it what it is. Seems like the conversation would get a lot further that way.

  8. Now that's a t-shirt idea, Kim. "Suck it Reaper!"

  9. @Kim Hosey
    It's so true. And if we are going to continue to execute people, maybe the states that allow executions should think about televising it so that people could bear witness to a person's life ending, however despicable they deem that person to be. Capital punishment wasn't very real to me until I met a real person who was scheduled to die. And then it became very real and very disturbing. Thanks for stopping by!

  10. Snookie at Rutgers? Oy. I'm all over the place on this issue. My theories involve lots of "if this than that" scenarios. I can't even figure myself out.

  11. The death penalty is an extremely controversial subject and believe me everyone has an opinion on it. Most of the opinions I see posted are pro and I find that to be disturbing. If an article is written about a particularly heinous crime then 99% of the people who post will make comments like "hang him/her", "one bullet" and etc. I sometimes want to point out that their opinions are just as violent as the crime they just read about. And you can't believe everything you read. How is it fair to convict someone in the press and then expect them to get a fair trial?? Yesterday a paper in the state (MS) where I live had an article about setting 3execution dates for the month of May. The Attorney General went into detail about how his staff would be practicing the executions of these men so that it was insured to work. I could almost hear the glee in his voice. Maybe in his mind, these guys needed to die for their crimes but the AG seems to be enjoying it too much. I don't know if any of them are guilty or not, but in the current judicial "good ole boy" system we have now you can never be sure. A corrupt and broken system exists in most states and there should be a stop to all executions.

  12. Mary:
    Thanks for commenting. I totally agree with you about the pro comments that I've come across. When I first met Khristian Oliver, I was aghast at all the hatred in people's postings on the internet. I think people believe that they can hide behind the anonimity of the internet to spew their equally violent thoughts. These are real people we are talking about, but the sad thing is, the only way these people know anything about the person is what has been presented in the media and I think we can all agree that some media outlets like to demonize, sensationalize and do it all in nifty little soundbites to fuel the fire.

  13. Pam:
    You put that much better than I could, thanks. You are right, the fact that people can post their rantings and not have anyone know who they are is probably what makes them so vile and nasty. I purposely didn't mention my situation in posting my opinion on here, because most people who see it will think, "oh she only feels that way because she has a son that is on death row". That's a big part of how I feel, but I have the same reaction to any execution because I know there is a family that will be suffering and a state that turns a blind eye to the consequences. I have a personal stake, but so does the rest of the world even if they don't know it. Thanks for the opportunity to say something.

  14. Mary:
    You are welcome. After Khristain Oliver was executed, his parents had a memorial page in the local paper. It was online and people could post comments. This page was intended for his family, but one person in particular felt the need to write something absolutely horrible on this memorial page. I contacted the paper and voiced my opinion that they should delete that comment. I was relieved when they did. His parents had gone through so much suffering and they didn't deserve to be the target of some jerk hiding behind a bogus name and a dial-up connection. Some people should be ashamed of themselves and what comes out of their heads and onto the internet. What's the Biblical line--Those without sin can cast the first stone? Maybe it's time that everyone take a long hard look at their own lives before they start targeting those they don't know.

  15. Deathwriter - I agree with you entirely. There's nothing left to say.


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