OldNFO had a post a couple of days ago about a panel at the Life, the Universe, and Everything Conference on Grieving.
Question 1- Professionals working in fields that encounter death frequently tend to compartmentalize everything. How does this impact their reactions to death and grieving?I (obviously) wasn't there, and only found the post after a gnarly night of gunshot wounds and traffic manglement (happily, no one died in our care) but here's my answer:
Question 2- What impact does military service have on reactions to death and injury, and how would that differ from civilians who encounter death frequently?
Question 3- Writers often approach the character who knows that they have a limited lifespan with fatalism or over-caution. Those are reactions that people have, but they’re hardly the only ones. And people don’t usually stay in either one as they actually get a chance to grieve the perceived loss and accept a new reality. What does this actually look like?
Question 4- Burnout is a real problem for police, military, and medical professionals alike. How much of that is related to being unable to grieve deaths that have happened in a professional setting and what does that look like for a character?
Question 5- How does someone with a chronic illness relate with people who are able-bodied and healthy? And how does working closely people who are living with chronic illnesses change your perception of it?
Unless you buy it after an IED explosion, or going out like Quint in Jaws, death mainly hurts the friends and family.
No one ever woke up during a Code Blue and said "Ow!". They were over it, and generally speaking, long gone and well past caring at that point.
And if they've had their threescore-and-ten, or more, it isn't really necessary to "compartmentalize" their death; someday, it's going to be everybody's time.
The hard ones are the way-too-early ones, especially kids and infants. No one pulls the plug on those for an hour or more, because kids.
And people doing the codes have kids, or have had.
Military deaths vary: for most, it's a growing up process, because it challenges the invincibility of youth. And what pisses you off is the sheer inexplicable randomness of it. Rarely can you say , "Well, Jimmy ate it because he did X stupid thing", because usually, you did the same thing as Jimmy, you were just five steps ahead of him or ten steps to the left, and sh*t happens. But it takes awhile, and some maturity to process that and come to terms with it.
Guys who make a career of flying or being around it see more death in peacetime than anyone else, and being the methodical types, try to glean some nugget out of it to make it not a waste. Some lesson to learn, some sort of "let's not do that again" message from a lost squadron-mate.
But sometimes, someone goes out, and just doesn't come back, and no one ever knows why.
A character in a situation facing their own mortality would go through all five of the Stages Of Grieving, randomly, serially, and every which way. Besides fatalism or over-caution, I have to think there would be some sense of hyper-awareness, of processing every sight and sound and sensation, because there was coming a final moment. They'd live every minute; scarcity brings value, something as true with time left on earth as any other thing.
I don't notice burnout, and I've been doing this 20+ years.
Sleep and days away from it solve a lot of problems.
That doesn't make hard cases and tough beats less, but the end of the day, the person on the gurney isn't me, or friend or kin, so when Death happens, I'm just the gate agent at the boarding ramp for the ECU (Eternal care Unit). You do your job professionally, you treat the subject with dignity before, during, and after, and you do the best job you can. I imagine it's like being a concert maestro who knows he's going to be executed after the last note: you'd want to deliver the most perfect final performance you could, right? It's exactly like athletes saying "leave everything you've got on the field." Even in a game you think you're going to lose, it isn't over until the last whistle.
If I was half-assing it, it'd be harder on me. I know it would. But if someone dies, and they died after I did every possible thing that could be done, there's no shame in not being superhuman, because the enemy (Death) gets a vote.
Chronic illness, and working with it, fills me with sadness when I see people who gave up, or chose stupidly and unwisely, and are finally paying the penalty of one big mistake, or a lifetime of little ones.
And it instills in me a dread that I do keep locked in some deep, dark basement, to hope to never have to face going slowly, by inches, for any reason. Everyone hopes for "the big one" to just check out relatively quickly and painlessly, ideally while asleep. No one says, "Please, let me lose my mind first, and then have my body hang on, so I can be screaming at the walls, rotting from bed sores, crapping in my diaper, drooling untasted pablum, and not recognizing my family until I finally get a massive septic infection and die."
And I can totally respect the person who chooses to go skydiving or mountain climbing, and have an "accident" facing that, choosing to meet Death on their own terms, instead of puttering along until all their own choices are forfeit. Or, not, and deciding to float with the current until The Day.
Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me –The Carriage held but just Ourselves –And Immortality.We slowly drove – He knew no hasteAnd I had put awayMy labor and my leisure too,For His Civility –We passed the School, where Children stroveAt Recess – in the Ring –We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain –We passed the Setting Sun –Or rather – He passed us –The Dews drew quivering and chill –For only Gossamer, my Gown –My Tippet – only Tulle –We paused before a House that seemedA Swelling of the Ground –The Roof was scarcely visible –The Cornice – in the Ground –Since then – ‘tis Centuries – and yetFeels shorter than the DayI first surmised the Horses’ HeadsWere toward Eternity – Emily Dickinson
I mention this to remind folks that Death is part of life (rarely the fun or welcome part, but a component nonetheless), he follows his own schedule, and, exactly as Terry Pratchett imagined, HE TALKS IN CAPITAL LETTERS.