What Can You Even Say?
I keep returning to the same news story of a set of twins who underwent euthanasia this week in Belgium. They were born deaf and were now going blind, and “they wanted to die because they ‘could no longer bear being unable to hear or see the other’.” I want to talk about it, but I have nothing to say. I tried talking about it with Josh, but the conversation was very brief, like a quick dash of salt.
“I keep reading about these twins. I want to talk about it.”
“What can a person even say?”
And yet I read the article again this morning, almost as if I’m expecting it to say something different.
So I pull apart the word: euthanasia.
Eu = good
Thanatos = death
I break down the words even further, dig back to their roots; their stories.
Thanatos was the personification of death in Greek mythology. He was the son of Nyx (Night) and Erebos (Darkness). Like the brothers in Belgium, Thanatos was also a twin.
His brother was Hypnos, the personification of sleep. Hypnos lived in complete darkness — figurative blindess — in a cave without sound; deafness. The parallels keep rolling around in my mind.
In a pantheon of death-related gods, Thanatos is sometimes also specified as the god of peaceful death; easy death. When I read their brother’s account of the twins’ death, their small final wave and the repetition of the words “up in the sky,” all I could think of was this image of Thanatos and Hypnos there in the room, carrying the brothers gently beyond.
I was moved by their death. Choosing to end their life together. It spoke to the enormity of their relationship. Obviously different but an equally powerful image is the one Ben Folds calls forth in his song, “Luckiest.”
Next door, there’s an old man who lived to his 90’s
And one day, passed away in his sleep
And his wife, she stayed for a couple of days
And passed away
I’m sorry, I know that’s a strange way
To tell you that I know we belong
That I know that
I am the luckiest
Don’t we all love that idea as much as we don’t want to die at all? To not have to go through the emotional pain of being parted from someone we love; in getting to go together with the person who holds our heart at the end of a very long, very loved life?
The brothers, of course, were not old. This was not the end of a long life, but rather a road clipped short in middle age. And maybe that was what made the back of my throat ache as I read about them. Because this wasn’t the fading described in the “Luckiest.” It was a horrible loss for their parents, their brother, their friends and family. It was a choice, and because it was a choice, there were always other options — obviously unpalatable options, but options nonetheless. And maybe it is the presence of those options-that-aren’t-really-options (or, more accurately, while others may have chosen those other options, they weren’t options that were acceptable to the brothers) that makes this story keep flipping around in my mind like a fish pulled out of a lake. That fish; attached to a line.
In my head, I keep thinking about how we process suicide, especially because at the same time, there have been so many articles about Aaron Swartz’s suicide. Three lives, all cut short by choice, and in one case, it is called euthanasia, a good death. And in the other, it is called suicide; Latin for self (sui) killing (cida).
There is so much anger after a suicide. You want to resurrect the person just so you can scream at them about how much they’ve hurt you. And yet we also have this thought that there are right times to end your life, reasonable times when living becomes unbearable and death then becomes a “good death.” When we breathe a sigh of relief after a loss and say, “at least they aren’t in pain anymore.” How do we decide what is euthanasia and what is suicide?
It feels as if all deaths exist in greyness, processed by the remaining living. And some we label euthanasia and some we label suicide, and others become accident or tragedy or finally or expected or too soon or unfair. It’s almost as if this is part of the grieving process, to divvy up the deaths into their respective bin in our head so we know how to mourn.
Do we go first to tears or first to anger or first to shock or first to a shuddering sigh of relief?
How do we know if we don’t label it?
Josh is correct: what can you even say about this? It was their choice, and as someone who supports not only the concept of euthanasia but also respecting another person’s choice, it stands to reason that I have no opinion on the rightness or wrongness of their death. It happened. And it is mostly a private moment for the family, though it was shared as a news item with the rest of the world.
I cup my hands around the fact of their death and do my part as a human to hold it.
As a mother of twins, I watch them sit with their heads together, talking about their next big idea. I think of Marc and Eddy Verbessem’s mother, how she is coping in the aftermath. Maybe that’s why I can’t stop reading about it, why I want to talk about it. Koev halev. My heart is out there, with this family I’ve never met.