About 35 years ago I was working in a small country town in SW New South Wales. One of the first people we got to know was the local curate who was of a similar age. He invited us to his place to meet an old professor of his who was now a Bishop in one of the NSW Diocese. Before we shared a meal, Mass was said. As I went up to communion, the Bishop said to me "Die Well." It made me almost collapse on the spot! What the ......! I didn't think I looked that sick even though I still had a "Pommy" suntan! Several years went past before we met the Bishop again. After the usual pleasantries I mentioned what he had said to me. Silence filled the room where we were -"I've never said that to anyone in my life" he said! All that could be heard was my chin hitting the floor.
Like most young people, death is not a comfortable subject, but whoever said "Die well" to me certainly left a lasting impression in my mind.
Over the past few weeks I've been reading a book about Thomas s Beckett. He died back in the 12th century - actually, he was hacked to death in Canterbury Cathedral for mainly political motives. Not the best way to shuffle off this mortal coil, but then again, is there a good way?
One of my dearest friends is currently dying. Even writing the word gives it an air of bleak finality.
Over the past forty odd years in my work in the medical side of life - including a stint as a Palliative Care Doc - death has always been at the periphery of my vision. I was going to say, mocking me at the periphery of my vision, but maybe not. When one considers the myriad of functions that happen each second within our human transport system (aka body) it is not surprising that eventually it has to fail. Our DNA algorithm is seemingly destined to self-destruct eventually.
Death is inevitable.
It's surprising we don't talk about it more often. But then we have so much to distract us these days: mobile phones, virtual reality, Pokemon and so on. Way back when ... before electricity lit up our lives and dulled out senses, death was very much a normal part of life. Palliative Care grew out of the fact that dying was .... well, natural!
So now, here we are in the 21st Millenia: suffering is to be numbed and death is to be denied. Science is the modern Cure-All.
But hang on a moment! What about we who are left behind? How do we cope with grieving? Am I really going to die too? In these modern times, is it to be the counsellor for everyone left behind? Or a targeted pharmaceutical to work on our circulating serotonin levels? What do we tell out kids and grandkids? "Gramps has gone to sleep." "Yes, we always burn the bodies - it's so much more hygienic." "Gran's in heaven now. Where's heaven? Uh, it's where God lives. Now don't ask any more questions ....."
Living, dying: earth, heaven.
There are no simple answers. But one thing I do know is that at the end of the day, having a dear friend is all about sharing wonderful experiences and shedding tears when they die. It's about the real fact that when you're dying, it's far more likely that it's your family who sit by your bedside and stand by your grave. And on your headstone it's far more likely to read "Beloved husband of ...." and NOT "Sadly missed by his colleagues at the bank."
Dying is a normal part of life, so live and die well. Make your friendships real but most of all, treasure your family whilst you can. We're all on borrowed time.
Categories: Thomas á Beckett, Palliative Care, Death and dying, heaven, God, suffering
I recently read a review of Tom Wolfe's latest book Kingdom of Speech and was intrigued by its premise - where did speech come from? It's one of those subjects that you take totally for granted .... that is, until you start to think about it. Tom Wolfe has obviously thought deep and long about the subject, and he's come up with a very entertaining read.