Strangely Easter Sunday and April Fool's day are on the same day this year. Perhaps this is a good time to remind ourselves not to take life perhaps quite as seriously as we do? This is also a time when Christians all over the world celebrate Easter and perhaps contemplate Life, the meaning of life, the concept of sacrifice and even what happens after death (the concept of Eternal Life)... Okay, let's be honest, many are just out with the kids hunting for signs of the elusive Easter bunny and his chocolate eggs...
Until the past two and a half years ago, I had lived a pretty blessed existence, with only minor experiences of death - my Oupa when I was 6, my Ouma as a teenager, and then really just vague great aunts and uncles or acquaintance or celebs... Death and dying was a nebulous thing. Even in my Applied Psychology degree, studying Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, 5 Stages of Death, I still found it more applicable IN MY LIFE to other "grief or mourning" life situations (e.g. relationships splitting up, major life changes etc.). Suddenly from 2016 Death and Dying began to shadow me (or so it felt).... most certainly 'they" clouded a lot of my Life. My best friend, just 40, died tragically, my favourite Cousin, favourite Aunt and then my mom died. My ex husband had a life-threatening stroke. One of my close neighbors had a double mastectomy and my best friend and sister-in-law both had Spinal tumours removed. Another of my favourite cousin's son had a brain tumour removed (he's not even 30 years old). A very vague acquaintance at at the first funeral, who really doesn't know me, took me aside and told me that she had to tell me, but this death was preparing me for the death of my parents.... what she didn't tell me was that it was preparing me for DEATH!
Death is still such a taboo words and topic of conversation. There is so much belief, opinion, fear, anxiety, heartbreak (and the list goes on) associated with it. Death is in fact the ONLY destiny each and every single one of us has in common from the moment of conception. Free Will, choice, being the master of your own destiny.... none of it makes much difference at all. It is UNKNOWN and thus uncontrollable! This is what terrifies people.... it is the end of LIFE, it is the antitheses of life, the finale of our story.... Nobody KNOWS the truth about what (if anything) happens next, and part of being realistic is accepting that we simply do not know what we do not know. People cling to beliefs that bring them some measure of comfort and hope ...the hold onto the belief that have some greater understanding ...they hold on for dear life!
I don't have the answers, I accept that. I have however witnessed a mother suffering incredibly at the hands of doctors who kept her alive at any cost and against all hope. Yes, they bled the Medical Aid dry, and then wanted to move her into the only Rehab. facility that would take her (the one, incidentally that the Doctor in charge of her care, also worked at). No other rehabilitation facilities would take her because she was "not a viable candidate". It took lawyers to finally have mum moved to Hospice (and I cannot rave enough about this compassionate organization), she lasted less than 24hours after the move.
Some of the lessons I have taken from my intimate experiences with Death and Dying are:
• We need to have THAT conversation, death and dying should not be taboo! One place this conversation and debate is already happening across the globe is at a Death Café's. The book Before Forever After: When Conversations About Living Meet Questions About Dying may also provide soul food and and a good point of departure in thinking about both Life and Death.
• We need to know where to ask for help, guidance and support when faced with Death and Dying. Hospice, does phenomenal work. There are also people who are becoming Death Doula's - their purpose and role is to guide and mentor someone at the end of life.
• Death is natural and not to be feared, dying and a linger-longer death needs to be avoided at all costs!
• We spend far too much energy worrying about death and wondering about what happens afterwards, instead of putting the energy into our LEGACY and ensuring we do live on in the the difference we made in life - that we LIVE ON in the hearts, minds, memories of those we leave behind. Not just our immediate friends and family but also, the people we have mentored, changed, given new confidence and competence to.... those we have touched in some way!
• We need to have a "Bucket List" every day, rather than a "To-Do-List". We fill our lives with busy-ness and minutiae and neglect the important thing, the stuff we are passionate about, the stuff which enriches our lives and fulfills us (that stuff we want to remember when that supposed slideshow of our lives flashes past in the moments before death).
• We need to recognise our life is finite, and we do need to have the preparations in place for when we Die. We need to consider what kind of death we would ideally like, and also try and spare our next of kin and loved ones the trauma of second guessing what we would want in the care leading up too our death. For me personally, I have both a Living Will and Advance Directive, since I wish to Die with Dignity and have some Autonomy over how I die, even if I am in a coma or otherwise or otherwise lacking in capacity to make decisions about my treatment (or non-treatment). DignitySA is a pioneer in this, in South Africa. I have also chosen to donate my body for Scientific Research - not only does this alleviate my family from paying the exorbitant costs of cremation or burying me, but it also brings about some use for the vessel, I no longer will have any use for (beyond death). Some people choose to become Organ Donors (far from enough, if you look at the enormous list of people awaiting organ transplants). Your DEATH then serves a purpose and can even bring about the opportunity for life, for somebody else!
We are all mortal, we shall all DIE,
It’s not a question IF, or a question WHY...
Just is the destiny of your birth, not worth any tears, fears or mirth
Conception is deception, ‘cos that seed of life means certain death
The lust of life ends in that final breath
No one is beyond that end, yet we let that fear drive us around the bend
We hate our lives, we moan, we fight,
Yet fight for life and fear to walk into the light
Instead of asking why was I born at all
We ask will I survive death and hear God's call
Oh silly folk from dust you became
A little spark of lust, got you in the game
A lifetime that fast forwards as it heads towards the end
And then the game’s over my sweet, dear friend
Your fret, your worry, it doesn’t change the fact
You really just will not be coming back
Your energy, your life force is never gone
Life force lives on in your daughter and your son
It lives on in memories you leave behind
Whether you were cruel or if you were kind
An energy is attached to what you meant
Your legacy is where your life energy went!