The ‘D’ Word
It is the most natural thing in the world. However, some of us will try to avoid it. Others will deny it, and some will actually accept it. I’m talking about dying and death and the way they are an integral part of our lives.
I encountered death for the first time when my great-grandmother died. I was eight and attended her funeral with my mother and sisters. As a child, I don’t think that I was traumatised by the event. What I remember most was that we flew to to Wisconsin to the funeral. I was excited because that was my first time in an airplane.
In my seventies now, death is becoming more personal as my friends and I age. Sometimes I even think about who will go and when.
Feeling somewhat ‘death illiterate’, I did a year-long training in 2014 called Midwifing Death. I had an idea that this course would be good to do, a way of looking to my future. It would help me be more able to face, in a full-frontal way, my own ageing process, which will lead eventually to my own dying.
This week, a friend, Naomi, from our Wingsong Choir died. For some time she’d suffered from cancer which ravaged her at the end. She was a unique and passionate individual, with a beautiful tenor voice. I was privileged to support her and her carer in some small ways over the last few months.
You may have heard people say that it is an honour to be with someone through their dying process, and it is true. Hard though it may be, death, like birth, is so real. Both of these demand that we be utterly present.
Naomi loved life so much that she hated to have been handed the diagnosis of terminal cancer. Yet, if it’s possible to say this, for the most part, she did her dying with grace. She was able to be in her own home on the beautiful Manning River, surrounded by the gardens she tended. There were many friends who called in to visit and the scenes were never maudlin. Rather there was music and laughter and art being created. Sure Naomi experienced plenty of pain periods and there was much sadness as the disease progressed. But the palliative care, and even more so, the fierce loyalty and love of her closest friends got Naomi across the bridge from a life of vitality to a peaceful death.
Part of dying is so very material and mundane, in that ‘earth to earth, dust to dust’ way, but the other part is completely mysterious. In the main, we don’t understand what death is for or what it entails.
For me, the gift of Naomi’s dying has been being reminded of the importance of family and friends, as well as, lovingly cultivating them over a lifetime. Our other preoccupations–fame and fortune–will fade into the background in the face of one’s death. Death is never not interwoven with life, but we forget. Until a teacher, like Naomi, comes along and wakes us up, opens us up to more appreciation for life and one another.