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When the time comes

Someone asked, “What would you want to help you make a good death?”

“The church bells sounding with the blackbirds’ evensong, and my daughter’s voice.”

It was a beautiful question and my answer was there, even before my next breath. There it is – the instinctual priorities pop out before you can say ‘natural burial and no flowers, thanks.’

I say it was a beautiful question because it came from the need for the deepest enquiry, a question that is easily and often avoided. I’m not suggesting that we romanticise and sentimentalise death in Victorian or any other terms, but I have sometimes wondered if part of the secret of living well, happily, and to our true potential is linked with keying into those rock-bottom priorities, feeling our personal, necessary connections.

Seriously thinking about life means knowing, and really understanding with deep acceptance, that death will come. Seriously thinking about death means more than cataloguing a bucket list; it means finding the simplest of blessings, the most minute realities of personal human existence that matter to each one of us – a different kind of bucket list – and making space for the practising of peace.

Some of us are fortunate that the manner and time of our deaths are still a mystery to us. Some people get through every day with the knowledge that their time is short, and live out the remainder of their lives with as much joy and meaning as they can muster; still others endure pain and indignities that we fear would undo us, yet these courageous people often connect with the tiniest of realities to hold them gently until they release themselves from life.

Am I saying we have to die before we can really live? No. But perhaps consideration of how to make a good death can help us to make a good and more joyful life.




3 comments to When the time comes

  • Good thoughts all, Sally, and something too many of us turn the proverbial blind eye to.

    Accepting that death will come has been part of my life for a while, even though, as you know only too well, I think I will live forever! It doesn’t hurt to have a Plan B does it?

    One of my reasons for minimising my possessions is that I won’t leave a mass of stuff for someone else to go through and clear up. (“Trust you to be practical”, she thinks!) Having done this for my own parents I know what a chore it is – even though you have loved them, clearing their possessions is still a chore. And it is also sad to think that what was precious to them is meaningless to you.

    For me, and those like me with no children to dump it on, it is perhaps an even more relevant question.

    That is not to say that people should not have possessions and, as you say, we don’t know when that last life event will happen, but maybe it means we should consider more during life what will happen to all that ‘stuff’. Maybe then we will be more careful about what we acquire.

    These days, if anyone wants to give me anything I ask, “make it something I have requested, a donation to a named charity or consumable”.

    And, no, this is not a way of avoiding the emotional and psychological issue of it all. Thinking, not only about the “natural burial and no flowers”, but those things I have mentioned, our friends and relatives, does actually bring the reality of death closer to that, not more remote.

    Likewise, planning my funeral. My brother and sister did not even want to think about that. Not their funerals, mine. I am sure they are not atypical.

    I am often asked by patients and others here in Bhopal, “Why are you here? Why do you do this for us?”. Maybe that also is part of my personal preparing and remembering that life is not infinite.

    Maybe, also, it helps us to consider who will be left at that time? If I am to live forever (ie at least 150 years young) then there may not be many of you lot around to cry over me or clear my ‘stuff’!

    Each to their own. Thanks for posting these thoughts.

    PS Just in case, most of my ‘stuff’ is in a box at Squib near Leamington Spa.

  • Death is an inevitable step along the way and sharing in someone’s death is an honour and a privilege. We shouldn’t however under-estimate the impact of someone’s death, no matter how much we accept death, to be left behind when a loved one starts their next great adventure is tough even heart-breaking. Preparation helps, knowledge of what they wanted, and an unwavering faith is a godsend (no pun intended) but preparing for and sharing a death (yours or someone else’s) does indeed change all involved at a fundamental level.

    Personally my own mortality is now in stark relief and I find I am taking time to consider what it is that I would regret were I to die today. What will matter most is not what I have accumulated or even achieved but what will matter most is how many lives I have touched positively and what impact I had on the universe. Long or short, we should all try to make our stay here a good one. Thank you Sally for a being the catalyst for a brief pause on a Monday, time spent reflecting is always time well spent. Well unless you are in the path of a train!

  • PS It wasn’t really at 03:12 – it was about 08:45 in Bhopal that the final post was posted & the ‘submit comment’ button duly clicked.

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