Monday, December 21, 2009

A Diabetic's Obituary (UPDATED)


News of Brittany Murphy's death lit up the blogosphere and online community (in December), especially with reports in the first day that diabetes may have played a part in some capacity. The ever-so-wonderful tabloid reporting of TMZ has told us that Brittany's mother told paramedics her daughter suffered from Type 2, but the coronor in LA says this isn't believed to be a factor in her death. Instead, it's more "natural" and likely related to flu-like symptoms she appears to have had in the last days of her life; a final cause could take weeks or more to pinpoint.

UPDATED: Cardiac arrest apparently was the immediate cause. We can only assume diabetes played a part in this, in some degree. Adding to this was the news Jan. 4 that the 30-year-old Casey Johnson, a great-great-granddaughter of the Johnson & Johnson co-founder, was found dead. Apparently, also related to her Type 1 somehow - she was apparently out of control in managing it and had issues with both drugs and alcohol.

Regardless of the deaths, news of Brittany Murphy's Celebrity Life with the D wasn't well known outside her family, and it obviously raised some eyebrows and stirred the rumormill in those initial post-death hours. Casey Johnson, on the other hand, was a well-known Type 1 who had in fact written a D-related book back in 94. Her D-presence is more familiar to us. But both beg the question: how big a part should diabetes play in one's obituary, whether it caused their death specifically or not?

As a newspaper man, I know firsthand there's a motto in the obituary writing business: any obituary story is a tribute to that person's life, and you're supposed to write about how that person lived, not how they died.

Sometimes, the circumstances of a death are hard to sidestep: car crashes, tragic accidents, murders, longtime sicknesses, etc. But some get written focused on how a person died, and tell little about how that person lived. In writing obit stories, I've seen my share of submitted obituaries where individuals don't want any mention of how they died. Family just submits a laundry list of accomplishments or affiliations without any mention to the cause of death. Never much cared for this, particularly in younger deaths where there is obviously something uncommon happening. Sometimes, you can guage what happened - like a longtime sickness or chronic disease - by observing any charities or organizations or alma mater groups they ask contributions be sent to.

But it raises the question: how much should be focused on the end, the manner of death? For those of us in the diabetic community, what do we think about this? As diabetics, how much do we want that to play a part in our obituary? This is such an influential part of our daily life, is it worth more than a mention? How much so? We say that diabetes doesn't define us, but that it can in many ways put our lives into context.... Is that worth shaping the story that's written about us once we leave this Earth?

I've thought about my ultimate death from time to time. Suzi calls it morbid. I like to think of it as being somewhat prepared or realistic, mindful that we all must go at some point and we might as well think about it and be ready in some capacity once we're called home. My Hoskins family motto is "Finem Respice," or "Consider the End." I've tried to do that, thinking my my life as a story that will ultimately be told in the context of history. It'll need an ending, of course, but much more important is the beginning and middle and every single detail leading up to that end.

Assuming I don't meet my end by getting run over by a drunken school bus driver, stabbed in the neck by a Christmas Elf, or walking off a cliff while skipping and singing a song, I've always pretty much guessed that Mr. Diabetes will be the one committing a Class A Felony against me, whether it be via heart attack or other "complication of." But diabetes won't define my obituary, even as it doesn't define me. It's a part of me, but not the entirety.

When I go, that's how I want my obituary to sound: Not a diabetic, but a diabetic advocate who used his life experiences to educate and impact a larger diabetic community. Not only just a writer, but a newspaper journalist who believed in telling other people's stories for the betterment of everyone. Not just a resident of a particular town, but an active participant and community leader who got involved to help contribute to something bigger than himself.

Personally, I'd like my obituary to say about my demise: "died from complications of a failed pancreas, which gave out in 1984 but didn't prevent him from living a full and rewarding life." Like the ring of that. It makes me smile, knowing that I've been able to do what I have in life so far despite this often-overwhelming chronic condition. That should be the goal of any diabetic's life, and it's worth mention in our obituary when that times comes.

Now, back on with that Productive Life of Living With Diabetes, Despite It.

3 comments:

Casey said...

Good post. Nice to see something with a positive spin on what we could have said about us. A good reminder for what we can do with our lives. Here is hoping to a long time before we have to think about it though!

jath622 said...

I would like mine to say that I did live for 50+ years with the disease dispite being told when I was diagnosed that it was impossible.

Cara said...

I wrote a blog post once that said I hoped to die from something not related to diabetes...something like learning to ski at age 65 or something equally crazy. It was one of my very first posts.