Judy Bachrach, writing for Obit Magazine has a piece, Death Be Not Chic, on how Hollywood deals with death, in comparison to people’s real experience of it. Some notable quotes:
Death marks us permanently — and not simply because we are all, in another sense, marked men. Death defines who we are now and, inevitably, how we and our accomplishments will be considered at some later date most of us would generally prefer not to think about. At all.
What I have learned about dying, after many years of hospice volunteer work and more than two years writing an advice column for the terminally ill and their relatives, is this: You don’t look like Wynona Ryder while you’re expiring. You won’t be as hunky as Campbell Scott. You won’t look like Debra Winger — no, not even Winger herself will look like Winger. The Winger we see on screen, her lips and cheeks dusted with floury powder to give her what Hollywood believes to be the verisimilitude of metastasized breast cancer, is not a reflection seen in any hospice mirror. If your vital signs are failing, it is unlikely that you’ll find a double of Jeremy Northam, from the CBS television show Miami Medical, whose character evidently never loses a patient, at your bedside. Dr. Gregory House will not be hanging around your hospital room saying, as he often does on the Fox show House: “Pretty much all the drugs I prescribe are addictive and dangerous.” That’s because, even when you don’t have a hope of recovering, many real doctors are a lot more scared that you’ll somehow get addicted in your last three days of life than concerned that you’ll die in pain.
Here’s what’s probably going to happen if you have a long-term illness that, despite all efforts, spreads. Because of the pain medications administered, you will likely be very constipated and perhaps nauseous. The sicker you get, the less capable you will be of eating. You may have tubes in your throat that will prevent you from talking, so the probability of your delivering a series of invigorating and profound deathbed remarks to loving relatives, as seen, say, on NBC’s ER is minimal. Owing to the effects of medications, you might not even be conscious.
In some sense our culture’s fierce resistance to the bleak inevitable is understandable. Who is eager to experience the fear and impatience of bored relatives huddled together in the face of what one day they, too, will confront? Instead we get television episodes that mask finality, even while pretending to confront it, and films that gloss the ends of our lives with gold dust and perfume, giving us a finale as flimsy, fantastical, absurd, and gorgeous as their dewy-eyed stars. We watch these fictions so we won’t have to think too much about death and, like Tolstoy’s Levin, we tell ourselves, “So one goes on living, amusing oneself with hunting, with work — anything so as not to think of death!”