Most of us don’t like to talk about death and dying do we? But it’s something we will all have to experience one day. My Mum was born in England in the early 1930’s and worked as a nursing sister for many years before she retired. She reckons that in modern society we are much less confronted by death than they were in times gone by. Years ago when a family member died, they weren’t whisked away to a morgue in an ambulance, they were laid out on a table in the house and people came to grieve. This is still how it is in many parts of the world to this day. Nowadays death is a little akin to our food preparation processes, no killing chickens in the backyard or slaughtering a sheep. Our food comes in neat and tidy little packages from the supermarket or in a nice little takeaway food container. To the best of our ability, we also sanitise the death process too. This is not necessarily a bad thing, we do this to help us manage such a confronting process.
When my father in law passed away from cancer in our house in late 2012, we all huddled in bunches and cried and comforted each other, the Pastor came and he prayed with us and gave much comfort too. It was a very hot summers day and the air conditioning had broken down. The local Doctors surgery had closed for the weekend and we had trouble getting a Doctor out to sign the death certificate. With the room temperature reaching over 40 degrees celsius It didn’t take long for rigor mortis and a smell to set in.
Death is very confronting, it is the ultimate act of finality, it takes no prisoners and doesn’t compromise. Rich or poor, famous or infamous, tyrants and lovers of humanity alike will all suffer the same fate. Some of us prefer to think that our demise will somehow be heroic, the timing will be perfect, everyone will say the right things, and we will pass away in the embrace of our beloved. However just like life death is not a well scripted movie, you might step out to use the toilet and you miss them taking their last breath, people may say inappropriate things, there may be disagreements over funeral arrangements.
Some of us will die drawn out painful deaths, others will die in their sleep, for some it will be an excruciating heart attack, others will drift off peacefully in a morphine induced haze. Some will have joy in their hearts but the physical suffering will be hard to bear, others will fall into a dark depression. We all hope not to get cancer, we all hope not to suffer a long drawn out demise with something as terrible as motor neurone disease, but one way or the other, somewhere and at sometime we will all die.
I don’t think that focusing or worrying about how we might die is beneficial or helpful in any way, nor is the flirtation with death by those filming YouTube videos of themselves balancing on high rise cranes and skyscrapers without harnesses very healthy either. Living dangerously isn’t wise, and worrying today about your future demise won’t benefit you one single iota.
I believe that having death in its right place can help us lead more loving and meaningful lives. How many true life shows have you watched, or stories read where people have come close to death and it has radically changed their perspective on life, to make every moment count, caused them to be a better person and to love more? To live with this perspective is a beautiful thing and we shouldn’t wait for a near death experience to live this way.
I think about my mother in law Yolande Leroy. Like many she has lost her true love and to a great degree her reason for living. I recently read somewhere that this is how Johnny Cash felt when June Carter died, he didn’t want to go on living. I’ve seen Yolande clearing grass in the back paddocks and later over dinner laughing when we told her she could have been bitten by a deadly snake. Her and John we’re inseparable. They met on Friday dance nights in their small town in France as teens in the 1950’s, migrated to Australia, made a good life for themselves, then 20 years before retirement sold everything they had to relocate to Indonesia and establish a children’s foundation in Borneo that gave education and good health to hundreds of children from the Dayak tribes, irrevocably changing their lives for the better.
So life goes on, Yolande still lives a meaningful existence managing as best she can, she finds that keeping productive by gardening and cleaning helps her with the grieving process, she also has counselling from a woman who lost her husband, is signing up to volunteer at an animal shelter and with her small savings is going to fulfil a lifelong dream and go on some tours to China and Africa while she still has her health.
It’s a good thing to be aware of our own mortality. It may sound a little weird but these days I have a sort of strange comfort at the thought of one day leaving my earthly body, I’m not looking forward to the actual process, and I hope I die with my loved ones around me, a heart full of love and no regrets. I sometimes think how horrible it would be to lose my wife or one of my children to a terrible sickness or in an accident, but better not to dwell on this. I hope to live a long life with my wonderful Trish and see my children grow up and maybe see their children if they choose to have any. If not I’ll be thankful for every precious second I’ve had with each of them up to that point, and take comfort in the belief that I will one day see them again.
I travel a lot and sometimes when I’m relaxing in an airplane at 30,000 feet sipping away at my wine and watching a movie I have the bizarre thought that in the event of a catastrophic failure, at the next moment I could be floating though the air with the oxygen sucked out from my lungs, falling into the ocean to rot and have my body eaten by sharks. Maybe I’m a little morbid but the thought sort of makes me chuckle a bit. What can you do but laugh? Worrying about a grizzly demise won’t stop it from happening.
I don’t necessarily believe that there is a certain fated time for us to die. In some cases we can avoid it by living sensibly and skilfully. I once saw a man who was in a rush whilst crossing a busy street. He thought he saw a break in the traffic and ran for it. He didn’t see the car until it was upon him, he rolled up onto the windscreen then somersaulted about three metres up before descending head down towards the bitumen. I was the first to get to him, he had blood coming from his mouth and ears, it was a terrible thing to see. That middle aged man didn’t have to die that day, I wish he had taken his time and waited for the walk signal. He was someone’s Grandad or husband or brother. I hate seeing those YouTube videos of young people jumping off cliffs and houses and killing or maiming themselves, what a waste. Young people, don’t be stupid, death wants to take you, don’t make it any easier for the old Grim Reaper.
So my advice is this, don’t fear death but don’t dispespect it either. Sip your wine and enjoy the entertainment, live big, love much and do no harm, be careful crossing the road and don’t be an idiot. If there is something you are going to fear let it be the fear of a life not well lived.