Death And Dying
Margery Devine is an 87 year old woman currently residing at the Greenbriar Home Health Services in Southern New Hampshire. Greenbriar is a nursing home that I volunteered at many years ago, but I had never met Margery until the interview. The interview took place in the cafeteria at Greenbriar shortly after her lunch time. I had called the nursing home a few days before asking whether I could interview someone about such a grim subject manner and they recommended speaking with Margery. She is a sharp and witty woman with a really sweet demeanor. It was just to two of us in the cafeteria area (and a few employees cleaning up some leftover dishes). She did not hesitate to answer any of my questions and did so with a smile. It was really an extraordinarily interview.
Coming up with a list of questions was surprisingly easy and once I started to write they began flowing out. I came up with questions about things I had never thought about before. Five of my interview questions were:
1) “What is the #1 thing you want people to remember about you?” This question is really intimate and the answer can tell many things about a person’s personality and thought process. I wanted to discover what Margery thought about herself and how she affected people.
2) “How is it living in a nursing home?” Being young and only have visited nursing homes a handful of times in my life, I wanted to gain the knowledge of what it was like to live in this type of environment. The answer can directly affect a person’s views towards death.
3) “Have any of your friends passed?” This is the issue I would have the most trouble dealing with myself, and I wanted to know exactly how painful it is to lose the people closest to you. I can imagine this is a draining issue to deal with.
4) “What would you want to take with you in the coffin? Any special objects/photos?” This question gives me a definitive idea as to what Margery’s priorities are. If a person wants to be buried with a family photo, that shows that their family is very important to them. If that person wants to be buried with piles of money, it shows how important financial standing is to them.
5) “Do you want people to wear black or colored clothing to your funeral? Should they mourn or celebrate your life?” I personally have always believed that if a person has lived a full life, then the funeral should be a celebration of that person’s accomplishments. Usually tragic or sudden deaths are followed with funerals filled with black wardrobes and tears. I wanted to know how Margery felt her life should be remembered.
Margery is a remarkable woman with a very level head on her shoulders. She has 4 children and 9 grandchildren. She is visited fairly often by her family members especially since her husband died about 10 years ago from a heart attack. Her husband’s death was difficult, but he had had heart problems all his life and she accepted the fact that he lived as long as he possibly could. Margery kept insisting that he is still with her, and always will be. She talks to him every day and he still makes fun of her hair style, just like when he was alive. That kind of relationship is amazing because even death cannot tear them apart.
Margery likes living in Greenbriar and claims it is a wonderful and great place to live out her years. Of course she would rather be living with family, but she doesn’t want to be a burden on her family’s daily life. All the staff members in Greenbriar are very kind and everyone is truly dedicated to making it a comfortable place for their occupants. It is difficult for Margery to keep track of when new people come in and when “old people leave”. Most of her friends have died, and many people in the nursing home are senile and rude; not the sort of people Margery likes to associate herself with. Most people don’t die in the actual nursing home because they are either at a hospice or hospital beforehand, but just a week before a 90 year old man died in his sleep. This type of death doesn’t bother her at all and it actually raises her spirits because “I hear on the news how many people die of violent deaths at very young ages, and it is so wonderful to hear of a person dying at an old age of natural causes.” The nursing home provides many wonderful activities for their residents such as knitting, which Margery loves. Many times (especially around the holiday season) they get many musical groups to come and perform for them. This is how I was initially introduced to this nursing home because a show choir I was apart of performed for Greenbriar around the Christmas season. Margery remembers this performance and loved the “12 Days of Christmas” sing-along. She could not even put into words how wonderful it is to have young people come and entertain the elderly. She says that the residents talk about an event like that for months and it is the type of thing that “keeps people living”. In a place so focused on death, it can become a bit gloomy and depressing but Greenbriar does everything in their power to prevent this from happening such as taking the residents out to restaurants and having a “Senior Prom”. Their “Senior Prom” was actually organized in conjunction with my high school. We did all types of fundraising to pay for their DJ and our culinary department catered the event. Tears came to Margery’s eyes when I told her about this and she said that night was the most fun she had had in ten years.
Living in a nursing home must be very difficult. To not have many friends, a spouse, or many visitors it must be a lonely way to live out the remainder of someone’s life. Though the home does do a good job of taking care of their residents and providing some sort of entertainment, the atmosphere of these types of places has always been strange. The types of people I came in contact with ranged from bitter and cold hearted to friendly and warm. So many of the occupants went around mumbling about how miserable their life was and how they wished it was over already, which was really disturbing to hear. Margery is very much “still here” and was incredibly detail oriented. It was quite disheartening to see her in this type of setting because her soul is so much younger than the body she is in. Hearing her speak, it sounds like she didn’t take many risks in her life and now she wishes she had. Her love for her husband is so touching. Love is such a powerful emotion and even though he has been dead for a decade, it is like very little has changed. She has no desire to interact with other men, or to even try to “move on”. Margery just keeps on loving him and I think she will for eternity. This type of love is such a beautiful thing. Her spirit in spite of the loss of her husband and friends is still very much uplifted and she just keeps living with a smile on her face.
It was very interesting to talk to someone who had such a positive view about death. This woman has accepted her fate it and acted as though she is looking forward to it. When asked what her views were about the afterlife, she said “I have so much more to offer this world that it couldn’t possibly be the end”. This is such an inspirational quote. College aged people normally dread the thought of death, and many people fear it. Many younger people feel they are invincible in order to avoid the subject of death. To stare death in the face is such a brave quality for a person to possess. When asked about funeral details Margery wanted her funeral to be a party on the beach where everyone would wear fluorescent colors, listen to classic summer songs, and stay outside until the sun burned everyone’s skin. “I am 87 years old; it’s about time some people get to party in my name.” When Margery does pass, she wants to be cremated with a picture of her husband. She wants her ashes to be scattered into the wind so she can keep a close tabs on all her future generations. I love her outlook on death because it is so joyous and everything she said had such a great sense of humor to it.
This experience was eye opening and very surprising in many ways. I was expecting to interview a person who was afraid of death and hated everything about that concept, but I met a woman who viewed death as a reason to celebrate. I learned that even though we get older and loom closer towards death, it is not something to fear or be upset about because it does happen to everyone. Death is not a series of isolated incidents, but the next journey that each soul must take. A belief in an afterlife really makes a difference in an attitude towards death. I think this belief gives people a motivation to keep a positive outlook. I learned what the energy in a nursing home feels like and what I could potentially be seeing in my future one day. This was a positive experience and I am very happy that I interviewed a stranger because it gave me complete freedom to ask what ever I pleased without having to worry about family repercussions. This was a very interesting interview and I am very happy with what I took away from it.