The recent death of Queen Elizabeth II and the universal acknowledgement of, and respect for her example and life in service of her country, the Commonwealth and world in general left few unaffected.
It got me thinking about life, how beginning at birth we do our very best to either run from the reality of death, or to slow down death altogether. What a silly pursuit when we all assuredly have this in common. A birth and death date are the bookends to every person’s life.
John O Donohue writes in Anam Cara that it is often only in our wrinkly, grey and wiser years, when our shadow (who accompanied us through the terrifying birth canal, and got pushed with us into the big, noisy, light-filled world) catches up with you. Our shadow, death, our mortality comes to sit down by our side, breathless from chasing after us. We are astounded and taken aback. We ought not be shocked nor horrified. We spend our lives putting this one thing that most surely will befall us all at some stage, in a hidden corner. It will stand us in good stead to embrace the fact that we all are born and somewhere on our journey called life, it will end. We will die. Depart from this mortal space. We are all walking home. Let us embrace our mortality and humanity and walk together. This begs the question. How will we walk on this journey?
I found great value in compassionate accompaniment courses which I was privy to while managing the hospitium in Polokwane. A specific exercise helped our team, volunteers and countless patients and their loved ones.
It is a useful tool to help you think about this sensitive issue, namely death. It is way better to do the exercise with a good friend or loved-one. You will be surprised how similar, though unique your thoughts on the matter will be.
It is life-changing to have a conversation about this “let us rather not talk about this”-subject.
Here follows the death and dying – exercise:
Before you die, ask yourself:
What will you be remembered for
How do you think you will die
Who will make funeral arrangements for you, how would you want your funeral to be like
What would you like to be said at your funeral
What about your death, scares you
After this conversation, identify two things that make you grateful to be alive.
Then write your epitaph. “Here lies…”
The epitaph below hit home for me. “Poor mans son, orphan but model-partner, father, grandfather and friend. Albertus Barend (Bert) Geldenhuys. 28.12.1918 – 09.03.1989” I did not have the privilege to know this person, his epitaph caught my eye and touched me when attending the funeral of a beloved aunt a few years ago.
Stephen Covey of 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People recommends that we all need to attend our own funeral early on in life. That which you want to be remembered for will become guides on the map of your daily life and your humanity. You will get the funeral you visualise. You will become the model father, husband, lover because compassion, integrity, thoughtfulness were your guiding lights.
Don’t feel like a morbid exercise? At least take these words of wisdom by CS Lewis to heart on your journey. He wrote this thought provoking piece in 1948. He asked and answered the question “How are we to live in an atomic age?‘”
“How are we to live in an atomic age?‘”CS Lewis 1948
“I am tempted to reply: ‘Why, as you would have lived in the
sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost
every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when
raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat
any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of
cancer, an age of chronic pain, an age of paralysis, an age
of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor
In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the
novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you
and all whom you love were already sentenced to death
before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high
percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways.
It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and
drawing long faces because the scientists have added one
more chance of painful and premature death to a world
which already bristled with such chances and in which
death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.
The first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If
we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let
that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and
human things-praying, working, teaching, reading,
listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis,
chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts-not
huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about
death. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that)
but they need not dominate our minds.”
PS. So, as not to be called out for not sharing with you, here is my epitaph for my ashes box. ( The remembrance will not be a big thing, as my circle is exceptionally small.)
Here is Erna, a child of the One True God
Always her unique herself
She made space for all
Lived in the moment
Served all around her with love, dignity and respect
PPS. I will die trying to achieve the above.