Last week, I am sorry to report, my uncle passed away. His entire family was by his side, almost all having flown in from across the U.S. Because he had all of his faculties about him, he spent his last days getting his final affairs in order – having consulted with physicians, the hospice facility and his family. He knew the end was nigh, and he wanted to make sure everything would be fine when he left. Always in control, he even sat down and chose his entire funeral arrangements, right down to the hymns and the guests.
In Italy, this same scenario plays out in an entirely different matter. Basically, your plain vanilla, denial. The terminal patient is almost always – always – kept in the dark of their diagnosis, and even darker in terms of their prognosis. They are told they have an ulcer when it’s really pancreatic cancer. Regularly scheduled chemo treatments - taking place in the radioactive part of the hospital are shrouded in a ‘don’t ask / don’t tell’ omertà. I'm surprised they don't label the corridors something like HappyLand. Sometimes, depending on the fragility of the wife or husband, the doctors don’t even come clean to them, either. I recall pleading with a physician to give me the straight talk on my 89 year old aunt’s paralyzing stroke; finally explaining that for the family, and with her extreme Altzheimers, a ‘not long to live’ would be a benefit to all concerned. He could barely choke the words out.
Talk to any Italian, and they will state adamantly that my Uncle’s scenario is unreal, unhealthy and just plain sadistic at best. They firmly believe that patients perhaps fight harder, or don’t lose faith, if not told about their illness. Talk to an American about the Italian way of leaving this earth, with no goodbyes and your forms not in order (although one might contend that dealing with the bureaucracy would be the kiss of death – imagine that – having to revoke your own ‘certificato di esistenza’); basically departing without even knowing what did you in, and they will be left wide-eyed with incredulity and horror. I wonder if they are Last Rites, or Last Wrongs?
Studies should probably be conducted to see whose way works better.