Thursday, April 27, 2006

Death Throes

Some years ago, and right about this time of year, my dad lay in the intensive care unit, never to regain consciousness. For all practical purposes, he’d died the day of the crisis but it took three weeks for the doctors and official next of kin to decide to turn off the respirator. I asked to be there with him as he died.

Now, I’m a farm girl. I’ve seen lots of things die in lots of different circumstances. I don’t know all the biology, but generally, things have a death throe they go in to, a convulsion. And it is different from anything else.

I do not know what drugs they gave my dad to suppress his death throes but I know they gave him something. They tried to talk me out of being there, and then waited a good while to disconnect him when they had said they were ready. When they first disconnected the respirator, his eyes got big but he calmed right back down and slowly died, just laying there with me holding his hand, with me insisting on looking at his face and not at the blasted machine tracking his heart and breathing.

Through my birth preparations I had learned that one hazard of a hospital birth is that attendants to the birthing woman tend to deal with the machines instead of her – if she allows herself to be hooked up to them. Never having been hooked to a machine, I’d never had to deal with that, but then I didn’t even allow any vaginal checks with my last one. I certainly was not going to let my dad die without the same sort of midwifery through the transition between the worlds that I’d had for the birth of our children.

My point is this: we don’t know what “normal” looks like in a whole lot of situations. Birth and death are conducted behind closed doors and attended to by specialists and feared by mere mortals until we do not know that birth is conducted with some moaning and some poop and that death is but another form of birth. Dead people are tucked and painted and stuffed to look “natural” and we’re willing to pay a lot of money to keep natural processes at arms length.

My point is this: we can’t name it while it is going on, especially not at the beginning. The Great Depression wasn’t the Great Depression right when it first started. Just 30 years ago, we could not have imagined in our wildest dreams how life with computers in every home and the internet connecting everyone would change every day life.

I don’t think we are in the death throes yet, but I do think the age of oil is now actively dying. It won’t be pretty, but there are things worse than death. There is no medicine anyone can give it to prevent the eventual death throes. One blog applies Kubler-Ross’s stages of dying to the oil age, and says we’ve pretty much been in denial but are now entering the bargaining stage. If you listen, you can hear that rather desperate bargaining going on just behind the roar of denial. I have friends I love who I am afraid for. But mostly it is exhilarating, being a witness and midwife to the death of the age of oil, and the birth of a new age of what we know not yet.

Those of us who survive will make it what it will be.

I think the age of oil will die like my Uncle Virgil, smoking to the end.

And we don’t know what an age not fueled by oil looks like except on a homestead level.


clairesgarden said...

'I have friends I love who I am afraid for' in agreement but I am afraid for me too.

madcapmum said...

I guess I figure that the post-oil age will look a lot like the 1930s; more home/village centred than we are now, of course, more chickens in the backyard, more clotheslines and raspberry bushes rather than exotic ornamentals. Who knows? Life is twisty. I don't suppose anyone ever really knows what's around the corner. I hope there are more pleasant surprises than otherwise, though "pleasant" may be in the eye of the beholder!

Redneck Nerdboy! said...

This is one of the most intense blog posts I have ever read. I thoroughly appreciated your writing it. The part about you describing your father's death took courage and finesse and I was very moved.

An idea once came to me and I haven't really placed it anywhere, but I'll share it here.

"Nothing in history has ever happened which didn't surprise everyone."

I don't know why that came to me like it did, but when I think about it, it seems true in away when we look at the Great Depression, the 70's, Civil Rights, etc. Perhaps the death of the Oil Age will be just as surprising, once we look back on it.

the Contrary Goddess said...

I'm not really afraid of what is going to happen -- I'm more like the Klingon standing on the bridge of the ship that is breaking apart saying, "Ah, but isn't it exhilarating!"

But I do think the anger stage of the Kuber-Ross thing could be interesting, not to mention that the earth can't feed 6 billion people under sustainable (non-oil based) methods. And having looked at how things seem to happen, no, I don't think people will give up their transportation today in order to have food tomorrow -- anymore than they will give up their cigarettes today in order to have lungs tomorrow, or give up their taco bell . . . etc.

I think "it" will look like way before the 1930s. The Dark Ages maybe, with a few homesteaders playing the role of the monastaries.

Anonymous said...

In 1930 world population hadn't quite made it to two billion. Almost all agriculture was done by draft animals or hand. Almost all fertilizers were manures and cover crops.

The world isn't going to look like 1930 again unless 2/3rds of the world's population dies off. And even then, we've eroded away so much of the topsoil in 70 years, we couldn't get back to the food production we had in 1930 without the continued use of oil.

I was amazed to learn that any particular food on the dinner plates in the US travels an AVERAGE of 1500 miles to get there. But then I read that the food on Canadian dinner plates travels an average of 5000 miles to get there. It seemed incredible so I dug to verify if it was so. It is.

madcapmum said...

Do you have some links you could pass on for that?

I've been evaluating our food goods in the past few weeks, and where they're coming from. Right now all our meat is coming from a local farmers, via the local butcher, chickens from the local Hutterites. Dairy and eggs are produced in the area, and they comprise a big part of our diet. The brown rice is the one imported item that we eat a LOT of. Haven't convinced Chive to move down south yet.

Anonymous said...


Here's the one where I started. Let me see if I can find the others.

e4 said...

You've captured so many Big Things here, all of them woven together very effectively. Thank you for sharing such personal moments.

Jim said...

Excellent post CG!

madcapmum said...

You've been quiet for a bit. Still working with Betty-Sue?

the Contrary Goddess said...

hahahaha! Quiet, me? And I'm still working with Betty Sue, or she's working with me, one or the other. She's supposed to go home soon though to get bred.