When we consider our own mortality, many are drawn off the path of reality by romanticism, history, pathos, self-indulgence, vanity or hubris. Death is not something we see for what it is. It’s not hard to see why. We fail to take cognisance of some of the harsher aspects to our demise, and for good reason. No one wants to look such a creature in the eye. Yet I doubt we will ever be closer to ourselves than in those final moments. To quote a line from my Darkly Wood, “death is such an intimate thing”.
Loss is a troublesome weight. It knocks you over with the force of a double decker bus and lingers as grief while you struggle to recover. No one person feels the same. I know I struggled with grieving in my younger days and it left scars that were unexpected. The consequences were significant and it was only in hindsight that I can see how it laid waste to my spirit for such a long time.
Although I came through it, I was oblivious to the havoc caused until I had learned to cope, but by then of course the damage was done. Through those experiences, I still chose to avoid the subject of death, or at least I chose not to analyse the prospect of my own demise with any honest introspection. But then of course death came to my door, and surprised me with its kiss. I have felt its caress and though it seems like an age gone now, it has had an impact on me, left its mark indelible and true, and it has undoubtedly changed me.
There is discomfort, disquiet and dilemma when it comes to the very darkest of words. As a student I was drawn to John Donne’s Death Be Not Proud, and to this day I can recite it by heart. It was perhaps my youth that drew me to it, my belief, that special thing of youth that can make us feel invincible, untouchable almost.
It is that very word that is maligned, avoided, diluted where possible, as if in admitting its existence we will fall to its graces. We do it without noticing. He passed away – the departed – the priest on the pulpit who says we lost a good woman – the condolence of, I am sorry for your loss. The language around death, fails to adequately prepare those closest to those at its doorstep, for the moment when it will come.
When someone is terminally ill, we hear people talk of the illness and not the result. When asked, a person is more likely to explain that the person in question has cancer rather than say, he’s dying. I have heard it so many times, people avoiding the D word in all sorts of ways. She is in intensive care, sure he has not long to go, it won’t be long now, the doctor’s don’t hold out much hope.
To say he or she is dying is almost impossible, yet it is a term that we should perhaps be thought to understand, respect and bring back to life. Maybe it is the fear of getting it wrong, for it is such a final word. But you know, there are times when it is such an inevitable thing that it is quite simply the whole truth.
I died. It was a brief and fleeting thing I know and had someone referred to me afterwards in CCU as dying, it would of course have been inaccurate for I came through it in the end. But there are circumstances when there is no getting away from it.
Where am I going with this? I guess I am trying to square that circle of death and grief. My grief was extended through a failure to come to terms with what had happened to my mother for example. Her passing – her death- was sudden, sharp and devastating. It was literally life changing for a young man like me. I had lost my father- he died – just 2 short years before my Mam but he went through a prolonged and in truth more difficult slow march to his end, suffering as he did with lung cancer. Dying because of it. By the time my brother passed ( you see how easy it is to avoid the word) way too young at 53, I had at least begun to understand some of how loss was impacting my spirit. But it was the avoidance, the conflict of knowing the truth and trying to dodge the sharpest edge of the pain, that perhaps meant I inflicted unnecessary suffering on my soul.
Death, dying dead. They are words to embrace before they fall in our lap. People die. It is the harshest truth of all. I think we handle it quite well in Ireland and still we fall short. We celebrate the life of our dear departed, and I have been to many a fine wake in my lifetime, but still we miss the moment sometimes.
How hard it must be for a doctor to pass the news that a loved one had died – to use the word. I remember when my mother died, that a young policeman and woman had to be present for me to identify her as she lay still and unfamiliar in her hospital bed. I doubt I will see such discomfort again and still neither of them used the dreaded D word.
Perhaps I am wrong. It is avoided for good reason maybe, but by avoiding it through many years of grief, long since passed I am pleased to say, I became an expert at such deceit and I did myself a disservice.
I will leave you with my memory of my own dying moments and while perhaps they come from my naturally melancholy soul, they can be taken for what they are at face value, or one can read more into it, if that is one’s inclination. I recall that my strongest feeling as I realised what was happening was sadness. My life didn’t pass before my eyes but I felt sad not for myself, not at all. I was sad because I thought of my darling Joanna and my wonderful children. In that direst of moments I didn’t want to leave the burden of my passing on their sweet shoulders and perhaps that is what saved me, I don’t know. Somehow I doubt it.
I didn’t let go, I was pulled away from life and it was dramatic and harsh and surprising in my case, yet it was my melancholia that rose to the surface. That is thus for everyone I doubt. Maybe we live our last moments as we truly are, who knows. I can only speak for myself.
Coming through the other side was an entirely different matter. Frequent visitors to my site know what followed me back from the far side and I have yet to understand the nature of the beast. What I do know is that having been touched by the sword; I am more in touch with the nature of its blade. Death is nothing to fear, dying is just a word. Loss on the other hand is something we all will suffer but perhaps suffer less if we come to take back the words that frightens us most…
Haven’t read a Max Power book yet? I think it’s time to pick one up.
Max Power’s books include, Darkly Wood, Darkly Wood II The woman who never wore shoes, Larry Flynn, Bad Blood and Little Big Boy
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