By Assunta Ng
Northwest Asian Weekly
The coronavirus has redefined the meaning of a good death. What is a good death?
A perfect death is viewed as someone dying without much suffering, his or her life wishes fulfilled, and, most importantly, his or her loved ones standing by to witness the last breath. Later, friends and family members would gather to celebrate the deceased’s legacy.
But for those dying due to the coronavirus—death is a lonely and haunting experience—with strangers—no mourners staying around at the last moment, no service with his or her favorite music and songs, and later being sacked and whisked away quickly to a big air-conditioned van with other dead bodies, like what happens in New York. This whole scenario has brought grief and fear to those near death, and regrets and nightmares to families and loved ones.
However, Dr. Atul Gawande, author of Being Mortal, wrote, “Our ultimate goal, after all, is not a good death, but a good life to the very end.” This might console families and those who are dying, who have lived their life fully. But it doesn’t make it easier for us to accept the reality. And what about those who have lived through a terrible life?
Even though people have been saying farewell over phones and posting signs from afar for their loved ones, let’s face it, solitary death is inhumane. It’s never too late to organize events of “celebration of life” for the deceased, though. There is no rule that you cannot do it later to honor your loved ones. Another alternative is to conduct the service through Zoom.
The will to live
Here is the irony. While front line health care workers have been fighting to save coronavirus patients, there are those who want to end their lives.
“Judy (not her real name) is trying to kill herself, I can’t talk to you right now,” said our relative, who had to cut the conversation short when my husband called. A life of privilege, Judy is our relative’s future daughter-in-law, and battled depression even before the pandemic. The coronavirus pandemic has worsened her illness.
The virus has been the cause of stress not only for the sick, but for the healthy, too. With so much bad news from the pandemic, such as the infected and dying, how can we find peace of mind? How can we live with hope when the virus has destroyed everything, including millions of jobs, homes, businesses, and remarkable institutions such as art organizations? How can we cope with the anxiety of isolation when we cannot see our loved ones, hug or play with them for months, even though we don’t live far from one another? We feel anxious when we have no control of our own environment and future.
We feel desperate when we don’t know when the pandemic is going to end. The fear is, it will never be normal again. And health experts have been saying there might be a second wave.
Even in adversity, there are unexpected blessings. My hay fever is manageable because of my mask-wearing outside, and stay-at-home policy. With fewer meetings, I am relaxed at home. My husband said he has exercised more as he walks the stairs instead of taking the elevator.
This is the best time to learn how to calm yourself down during adversity. And I haven’t been worrying about the future because I focus on my present goal, getting the Northwest Asian Weekly and Seattle Chinese Post published every week in print and online no matter how challenging. And if I fail, I can live with that, because I have done my best.
Don’t worry or try to predict the future. The first thing you can affirm to yourself in the morning is say, “Thank God, I am alive.” No one should take the gift of life for granted given the horrible number of deaths and infections in this pandemic. Congratulate yourself for having the determination and spirit to confront this crisis. Appreciate that you can breathe and eat… that’s important. Think of those on ventilators, who cannot breathe or eat. You realize you are so blessed after all.
“Take it one day at a time” No?
“Take it one day at a time” was my advice to deal with the pandemic when I wrote my blog in early March. Now, I realize one day might be intolerable for folks like Judy. “Let’s take it one moment at a time” might be more doable for those who are overwhelmed. Why?
These days, excessively lousy moments could creep in and pilorize your whole being as if the tunnel is getting darker and it’s difficult to get out.
The military’s teaching is relevant to our lives, especially during the pandemic. The first thing you do in the morning is to make your bed. If you do all those little things, such as picking up your dirty clothes on the floor or cleaning up your kitchen counter mess, your life will be in order. And you will feel better about yourself and your environment. During disasters, small things matter a lot, such as giving a helping hand to your neighbor. It’s good to focus your attention on other people rather than yourself.
My coping mechanism is to lift myself up through warm and joyous moments. These special moments don’t come easily. You have to discover, cultivate, and hold on to them from the moment you wake up in the morning. Just like my husband was so satisfied and smiling at a coconut he just bought the other day, “I get to enjoy this.” I wish I had snapped a photo of his face, showing content and treasuring the moment. Remember what gives you joy and then pause and savor that in your mind. It will switch your brain from stress to a relaxed and happy state.
My to-do list for the day is different from before. The goal is not about accomplishments or achieving more. It’s about doing less and finding meaning in what I do.
Now, my list is more philosophical. Have I laughed, smiled, and practiced gratitude today? Those are more crucial for my soul than getting awards. Have I done things that I have been procrastinating for a while, like calling or emailing certain friends or relatives?
Have I written a topic that can inspire others to conquer the pandemic mentally? I have and will continue to do so.
Some say you should think of other people first and not yourself at this time. Wrong. If you don’t have compassion for yourself, you won’t have enough to give to others. This is a critical time to take great care of your health and wellbeing so you won’t be a liability to your family, your co-workers, and the healthcare system.
Have you been eating and sleeping well? With social distancing, many may tend to eat more junk food, watch too much television, and spend too much time online. I admit I watch a lot more television currently, but never sit down to watch like a couch potato. I exercise, clean, eat my meals, or fold my laundry while I watch.
What do you do when you are feeling down? Do you have someone to talk to, to lift you up? A friend of mine who lives alone, likes to throw out all her sorrows and troubles whenever we meet. I was kind of her therapist. And I always reminded her of her blessings, one by one. She told me she felt so much better after we talked. Now, we can’t meet, and I hope she is finding other ways to cope.
When I am feeling low, I listen to music, play the piano, and do housework. I don’t idle and dwell on feeling sorry for myself. Keep moving. If you make mistakes, forgive yourself. Forgive others. I write down my blessings in my life. My list of blessings is long and heart-warming.
If you are afraid, write down those fears. Ask yourself why you have those fears.
Demystify each one. What are the facts and solutions for each of those fears? I guarantee you will feel much better after you do the exercise.
There are always merits with your present situation. One friend said, “Now’s the best time to save money as you can’t spend when you are in a lockdown.” Another said, “Good time to simplify your life.”
Adaptability is resilience
When we are able to adapt to do the best we can for ourselves and other people under adverse situations, it reflects resilience. Doing something, instead of doing nothing, means you are not giving in or giving up. A good example is Canlis, a high-end restaurant, that started breakfast and burger take-outs. Chinatown International District restaurants like Jade Garden and Purple Dot have a list of to-go clientele. Pho Bac has its own delivery mini truck, and Hood Famous Cafe + Bar plans to relaunch its delivery service in the coming weeks.
I was not a believer that the Northwest Asian Weekly and Seattle Chinese Post could be as good as they can be without the collaboration of all my co-workers in the office. We thrive on brainstorming ideas.
COVID-19 has transformed us to be flexible. We learned that there is more than one way to accomplish a task. And we get better and better every week because each staff member has sacrificed to do more with fewer resources. Improvising under a crisis shows we can problem-solve. And I am so proud of our staff and writers, who contribute amazing ideas and stories.
Just look at how the musicians adapt to perform a virtual Beethoven concert in an orchestra together through Zoom. The musicians have adjusted to make the best out of impossible situations. Adaptability makes you see possibilities that you didn’t before.
The consequence of ignoring news and facts
On April 2, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said in a press conference, “I just learned [COVID-19] transmits asymptomatically.” Bogus! Ignorance doesn’t excuse him from being reckless. He has surrounded himself with mediocre aides. Governors should know how to apply the information of his fellow governors, and his aides should know how to interpret those facts. Low-I.Q Kemp is incompetent. He should be fired.
People who don’t read the news suffer. I mean the real news, not fake news, like Republican governors favoring Fox News, downplaying the virus. Those people suffer the consequences of not reading and following the news every day.
Despite the fact I am a journalist, I would suggest that you don’t watch the news before you go to bed. All that negative news will affect your sleep. Give your brain a break at night. Stay healthy with discipline. May God bless you and America!
Assunta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.