Thursday, August 10, 2006

Yesterday's Funeral

I attended a funeral service yesterday for the grandfather of my wife's cousin's little boy. The man's Christian name was Joseph, and he was only 63. I didn't know him well and had seen him only three or four times, the last being on July 4. He was a quiet man who loved his family so much that he didn't want to burden them with medical expenses he believed they couldn't afford. So he grew sicker and sicker from kidney failure and tried to hide it and resisted his family's pleas for him to see a doctor after he couldn't hide it until he was discovered one day lying immobile and mute in bed, with froth oozing from his nose and mouth, and his body badly bloated from edema. He died a few hours later in the hospital.

Joseph should have seen a doctor before it came to this. But I can understand why he didn't. He thought he couldn't afford it. He thought his family couldn't afford it. I'd probably do the same if I were in his position. Perhaps I will be someday. It could happen to any of us, unless we're obscenely rich, and for reasons beyond our control.

I believe that no one in this country, certainly no citizen or legal resident, should have to worry about paying for the medical care they or their families need. Yet so many of us do. I believe that we should all be fully covered cradle to grave no matter what our circumstances. And I believe that if the best and brightest in this country were resolved to make it happen, it would. As it is, they aren't. Possibly in part because too many of the best and brightest are doing well enough financially that they can provide for themselves and their families and lack empathy for those who can't. And even many who aren't so blessed with talent or wealth fall for the conservative platform that cares more about making the rich richer and demonizing abortion and homosexuality than it does for taking reasonable measures to enhance the health and happiness of all Americans.

The Right say we not only can't afford guaranteed universal healthcare, but also that providing it would weaken this country by fostering a corrupting and, in Gagdad Bob's terms, "infantile" sense of "entitlement." But I say that we ARE entitled to decent healthcare. Each and every one of us. Whether we have a job that provides healthcare coverage, doesn't provide healthcare coverage, we're between jobs, have never had a job, or have a "pre-existing condition" that no insurer will cover adequately or at all. We shouldn't have to pay a dime extra out of our individual pockets for this. It should come from our collective taxes, even if we have to hike taxes substantially to finance it.

For without your health, what do you have? How is this not so basic to "the pursuit of happiness" that it should be our prime directive as a nation? How is suffering from untreated or undertreated diseases and disorders because one can't afford adequate treatment and the constant worry about paying for healthcare for oneself and one's family not far more corrosive to our social fabric than is reinforcing a moral sense of entitlement to universal healthcare?

I mentioned that I went to a funeral. I didn't know the man well, but I choked back tears when his mother and wife and sons wept over his body on display in its casket and, later, as the tractor pushed dirt into his grave. I choked back tears and then felt even more embarrassed than usual for doing it because I didn't know the man well and knew that the people who did would know that I didn't, and I was afraid they'd be wondering why I was reacting that way. Of course, they weren't paying any attention to me. They were too enveloped in their own personal grief to care about why I was struggling mightily to hide my own.

Yet, if they had asked me, I could have said that I was grieving for the family of this man who died because he was justifiably afraid that he couldn't afford decent healthcare, and for a nation that seems to think that the United States of America should let it be possible for people to be in this position while people like George Bush are set for life. I could tell them that I was grieving for my dearest friend who died recently without my being able to attend her funeral, for everyone I've ever lost, for all the people dear to me who have died or will die someday, and last, and probably least, for my own death that will come perhaps sooner or later than I expect.

One thing that consoled me in my grief was the little card distributed by one of the funeral assistants with the famous poem that begins "Do not stand by my grave and weep" printed on one side. I first read this poem in Ken Wilber's book Grace and Grit several years ago. I later discovered that it was very popular and used in many funeral services. I agree with it. We are NOT that corpse that lies slowly decaying in the coffin or dissolved in ashes in the urn, or the body that lives before it becomes a corpse or ashes. We are the unified totality of existence, some beautiful examples of which are to be found in the poem.

But I wonder why a Catholic Christian service would present such a seemingly heterodox if not heretical message.


Tom said...


A wonderful post. Indeed, How can we pursue happiness without our health? What freedom can we have if we are burdened with health worries we cannot afford to address?

I am reading Wilber's Grace and Grit now. We should try to be aware how people suffer. We should not feel guilty for the illnesses of the big bag of skin we carry around with us. Peace for us all.

Bart said...

"Do not stand by my grave and weep" is a powerful message. In the Catholic Church, the funeral is a sending forth into the eternal hands of the creator. I see it as a happy time. A tear may be shed for the loss of your loved one, but to dwell on the loss instead of celebrating the next phase in the journey is doing a disservice to the departed. I do not see a heretical message there, it is how it needs to be.
I remember when my grandmother died. I sang a song at the funeral to say goodbye. We burried her, then we had a party in her honor. It is more important to remember the person and look at the death as part of our wonderful life that we are so lucky to have.

Now to the health care issue. No one should be afraid to get care, it is sad that some feel that way. I know the cost can be so great that others will struggle to cope with it, but how can it change today? That, we have to work on in our country. In other countries without universal health care, medical care is much less expensive. We have great doctors, but they have to charge so much because the suits and insurance. My mother broke her foot while travelling in Europe and she went to the doctor and got it casted for less than it cost to see the doctor here for a cold. That is the real problem.
Good day.

Nagarjuna said...

Thank you, Tom. "Grace and Grit" is a wonderful story.

Bart, I think I understand the Catholic idea that death delivers the departed into the hands of God and is as much a time for celebration as it is for grief, and the priest certainly made this point during his eulogy. But the point of my post was that I didn't understand how the Catholic understanding of human nature and death squares with the idea that the departed are all the phenomena described so beautifully in the poem.

I agree with you that we need to work on making decent healthcare available to everyone without them having to worry about being able to pay for it. Some say we can't do it. But I believe that we can, if our will is strong enough, and that it should be one of our very highest priorities as individuals and as a nation.

Anonymous said...

Healthcare has to be paid for, correct? So what is wrong with the idea of each person paying for their own healthcare without filtering the money through the government first. It will come out of our pockets one way or the other; either voluntarily or with our pockets being picked by the government.

Nagarjuna said...

Most who incur major medical expenses can't afford to pay them out of their own pockets. But by using tax money from all of us to pay them, these expenses can be paid, and no one need go without decent medical care or be wiped out financially in order to receive it. I don't know about you, but if we could figure out a way to make it work, I'd be delighted to pay some of my tax money to help other people besides myself and family receive the healthcare they need.

Anonymous said...

I have the feeling that subconsciously you don't see yourself as one who is paying the extra burden of helthcare but as one who will be receiving. I don't expect you to ever discover that, or if you did, own up to it. It is immoral to burden others with problems we need to bear ourselves.

Nagarjuna said...

Dear friend, I can't speak for my subconscious beliefs, but I CAN speak for my conscious ones. I consciously hope to earn as much money as I can so that I can afford to pay more in taxes to help others who need it. And most of us WILL need it in some way or other at some time or other.

Thank you for your comments.

Anonymous said...

Then why don't you go out and find the neighbor without health insurance and begin paying it NOW! Why? because you don't want to put your money where your mouth is, you want to put other peoples money where your mouth is. SEE THE IMMORALITY?

Nagarjuna said...

I can scarcely afford to pay for my own health insurance at the moment much less for anyone else's. But I hope to be able to afford to pay taxes in time that, in conjunction with the taxes the rest of us pay, can more effectively help everyone receive the healthcare coverage they need. We all need to help each other in this regard, in my humble opinion. There is simply no excuse in a country like ours for ANYONE not having guaranteed health coverage or, at least, for this not being one of our highest priorities.

Counter Mag said...

Right, because once again, you are the one sucking the money from others and have the vested interest in all the freebies.

Nagarjuna said...

Not at all, my friend. Some of the money I hope to be able to pay in taxes from having a job with a decent salary may end up paying for services YOU need someday. And I would be happy knowing that I could be of help.

Counter Mag said...

Fantasize away, just like you'll suddenly metamophose into Nagarjuna. You have a victims dependent mentality and until that changes, nothing changes.

Nagarjuna said...

Counter Mag: I agree that I'll never be another Nagarjuna. However, I respectfully disagree that my hopes of finding gainful employment that will help me pay for services that you yourself or members of your family may need someday is just a fantasy. I'm working to make that dream a reality.

What dreams are you working to achieve, my friend? If they're wholesome ones, I hope you achieve them.