We’ve been travelling. I’ve been listening to a lot of radio and podcasts. Often, the stories i hear bring me to think about different aspects of grief. Sometimes, they allow me to explore new facets of grief, to better understand the processes i am going through. So here are a few recent radio-induced thoughts.
Radiolab, a show i enjoy despite some of its problematic aspects (i.e. it’s is very white/western- and male-centered) tackled a complicated topic this week. Its team attempted to “put a price on the priceless”, including human life. In a conversation about what we collectively should spend on keeping people alive with the help of high-end drugs, they ask what is a month of human life is worth. How much is it ok to spend to extend someone’s life for a year? They discuss these questions with different specialists but also ask people on the street “what is a year of life worth?” Most people took a lot of time to answer and asked many questions to better understand the context of this question, and the quality of life they would benefit from. 5 000$, 10 000$, 10M$… 7$. As the reporter said, the answers were « all over the place ».
I stuck me as odd that the reporter asked people to put a value on a year of their own life, and even more so that some people asked whether they would have to reimburse what they would need to borrow. I would have been curious to hear how much people would estimate a year of their loved ones’ life is worth. What answer would you get if you asked parents to answer what their child life is worth? What if you asked parents who have lost a child?
Or would it be an entirely pointless and painful question?
We were on the highway, earlier today. I didn’t catch what show it was. We had been driving with only short breaks for about 30 hours, to get to Atlanta. The reception of NPR was bad but the interview was extremely moving. The host spoke with Sonali Deraniyagala, author of Wave, a memoir about her experiences during and after the December 2004 tsunami that hit the coasts of several South Asian countries. Deraniyagala, who was on vacation in her home country of Sri Lanka at the time, lost her two sons, her husband, and her parents in the tsunami. (I couldn’t find the link to the interview that was broadcast today but here is another interview she gave after the release of her memoir.)
She says at first, she spent months without going outside, trying to avoid memories and reality as much as she could. She speaks of the horrible feeling she had — doubting her children had even existed, wondering if the past she had shared with them was real, or if she had just dreamt it all. She eventually began to see a therapist, who encouraged her to write. She wrote for herself, to reclaim what had been her life, whom she had loved. She wrote to make this unreal experience become more real for her, to capture it…
And despite the unbelievable scale of her loss(es), listening to her speak i thought that it is why i write too. To get a grip on a reality i wish didn’t exist.
Super intéressant! Merci!
A reblogué ceci sur Wrapped Up In Parentheseset a ajouté:
I’ve tried to start listening to more podcasts in the wake of Serial, but it’s hard because so many of them hit close to home and end up being upsetting. I listened to Radiolab’s show on value, and the value of life, and my thoughts were exactly what’s described here… If I had done a show on the same topic, I would have asked much different questions, and to different people. Radiolab recently did a segment on the semantics of PTSD, during which it seemed clear that the people speculating and debating about the experience of trauma had little personal experience with major trauma.
On the other hand, there have been many stories shared by survivors of the 2004 tsunami. Their experiences resonated so strongly with me even at the time; in fact, watching the coverage on TV during winter break from college was a main factor in inspiring me to pursue medical school. Now, I really know what they’re talking about. The author of Wave talks about wondering whether her whole past was even real. I’ve definitely been there. I still go there, sometimes.
Maybe I’m not quite ready for podcasts yet. I’m not ready for people saying anything at any time, without taking what I’ve been through into account. My thoughts and memories still aren’t solid enough yet, so I get confused and thrown off (in a way that I didn’t know was possible until the moment my son died and I had to leave his body at one hospital so I could go back to the other hospital, because I still had an open wound, a catheter, a blood count so low I couldn’t even sit up and pain so severe that I should have been on an epidural PCA instead of riding down the highway…).
Sometimes I want to rejoin the rest of the world and speculate impersonally about the monetary value of life and the semantics of PTSD and the normalcy of having children around.
But I’m really not there yet.
The first part on the value of a human life. I can’t imagine having to reply to such a question for so many reasons. The lives of my own children are beyond any worldly definition of value, I think, but I also believe that (some measurement of) quality of life strikes at the heart of costly interventions. It seems a tangled mess to even begin to explore…
I understand what you mean about coming to terms with reality (of what happened to Paul and your grief) through writing. It is one concrete way to begin to process the tragedy and our existence in the « after ».