Embracing the living…and letting go of the dying

news: Embracing the living...and letting go of the dying

LAST WEEK, Skip asked if I was afraid of embracing the living; if I was seeking refuge in far-flung places away from reality. He asked why I was once more refusing to enter into a meaningful dialogue, and asked if anyone was home.

The answer is no, Skip, I am not afraid of embracing the living, far from it – I love a hug as much as anyone. I do not feel as though I am seeking refuge in far-flung places away from reality – but I do believe that there is more than one reality. I am certainly not refusing to enter into a meaningful dialogue and, yes, when I am not travelling, I love being at home. But what I am aware of, Skip, is that while you and I have the benefit of having the other’s text in front of us as we write, the readers of The Resident do not have last week’s issue at hand as they read this page.

Ask anyone who reads The Resident what last week’s ‘is it just me?’ – or any other regular page – was about.They won’t remember unless it struck a particular chord with them. At this time of year in particular, many regular readers are away and, likewise, we welcome many new readers, holidaymakers dipping into The Resident for a flavour of local life. I feel that launching into a point-by-point analysis of your last column would only confuse our visiting readers – a bit like turning on Portuguese TV in your holiday villa and watching an episode of one of the many soaps: quite entertaining, but totally out of context. As for our regular readers – let’s ask them. Would they prefer us to be chewing over the bones of what the other said the previous week, or would they prefer fresh material based on – as the headline says – “Life as he/she sees it?”

However, to avoid even more jibes, I shall put my prepared text to one side and respond to, at least, a couple of the points you made last week. I would have to pick you up early on – “Death is an ugly word” – is it? What makes it so? Only fear, surely. For some people, death is a very happy release from a life of physical or emotional pain or suffering, the doorway to something even better. That all depends – dare I say it – on your reality and your belief system. Those who have been unwell for some time, usually prepare themselves mentally and emotionally for their own passing over. Who says so? Everyone I have spoken to over the years who has cared for terminally ill patients.

While the dying person may reach a point of acceptance and even anticipation, it is the surviving family and loved ones who suffer and grieve. I am told that, very often, a dying person will ‘hang on’ to please her (or his) family. As soon as they express their love and support for the person, and give her permission to go, she passes away, quietly and peacefully. The emotions of those left behind vary enormously, from grief to rage, with everything in between. That is why leading counsellors such as Elizabeth Kubler-Ross emphasise the importance of preparing for a death and going through the process of grieving, and why the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying is called just that.

Somehow, death is more acceptable when a person ‘has had a good innings’, isn’t it? The sudden death of a small child or a young adult is always a shock, a waste of a life. This is where the process of grieving is so important. Primarily, of course, there should be a body to honour and to send on its way, however that is done.

Skip, you mentioned the debate between Richard and Judy regarding burial places. You said that Judy decided to be buried because “a grave can be a great comfort to loved ones, a point of focus and a place of peace to be visited at will, for a quiet chat with the departed”. Why should cremation preclude a grave? Both my mother and my father were cremated, yet their ashes lie side by side in the family grave in the village churchyard overlooking the Sussex Downs. For some people, as you say, a grave can be a point of focus and a place of peace, but, for me, it is like having to go to church to talk to God (however God may be defined to you). I talk with my God all the time, without the need to go to a church. And I talk with the departed all the time too, without the need to go to their graves.

But wait a moment. Did I read right? “A chat with the departed”? You’re not accepting the principle of life after death here, are you Skip? Careful – we’ll have you believing in guides and angels next!

Finally, as you like quotations, Skip, let me leave you with this one. It is a passage from the book that British comedian Will Hay was reading before he died, and it was carved on his gravestone in 1949: “For each of us there comes a moment when death takes us by the hand and says – it is time to rest, you are tired, lie down and sleep.”