Last night with my wife I attended La Boheme, an opera by Puccini showing how little attitudes about dying changed since 1896 when the opera was first performed.
DEALING WITH LOSS
In the third act, Mimi, the heroine, learns her lover, Rodolfo, rejected her because he believed her illness would lead to her death and he couldn’t accept the loss. Not the most stellar of personal attributes. So, as many people do with dying, instead of confronting their fear, he leaves her to fend for herself.
LEARNING TO BE HELPFUL
In my hospice experiences, I often heard stories from patients who felt rejected when friends and loved ones learned they were dying. While some took the rejection as a statement about them, I think we often aren’t as helpful as we want to be because we don’t know how.
In the final act, Mimi makes her way back to Rodolfo’s apartment to die. Laying on his bed, looking out the window and surrounded by friends, she begins the process of dying. While everyone, except Rodolfo, understands what’s happening and says their final goodbyes, Rodolfo still pretends she’ll recover. Delusional, as many people are today when facing death.
If there was another act covering Rodolfo’s life, I’m sure Puccini would show him as someone filled with regrets about not saying or doing things showing his love for Mimi. I found the same in caregivers I counsel. The lesson? Don’t wait to tell someone how important they are in your life.
The performance by the San Francisco Opera was spectacular and a lesson in how attitudes on the acceptance of death haven’t changed over the last 118 years.
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