Saturday, 24 July 2010

Will we ever take in death?

Birth is a miracle. Actually the very act of conception is a miracle, the very fact that a new life is created and developed almost out of nothing. Just two cells brought together can produce a new human being. There is one causation of why people are born, but they die for thousands reasons. We never know when and how we will pass away, who will survive us and who will depart before we reach the end of our time here.

Death is also a miracle, only we somehow fail to accept it. A birth, quite naturally, is accompanied by joy. Usually when something begins people are happy and when it ends they tend to be sadder. So the death should involve sadness, which has its specific name – mourning. Symbolised by dark clothes is in fact a state of mind, the way humans try to cope with bereavement. It has several stages, from shock and disbelief up to picking up the pieces and trying to live a normal life, reconciled with the tragedy. What happens to us after the decease remains a secret. The body dies away, but what happens to the spirit? Christian theology comes up with hell, purgatory and heaven – three places where departed souls can reach in the afterlife, depending on their conduct on earth. It is still a mystery and I suppose the fear of death most of us feel is the fear of the unknown, of turning into non-existence.

The thoughts of transience did not haunt me without any specific reason. I have a weird habit – on every New Year’s Eve I wonder if a coming year will be good or bad. The only criterion to determine is if I would attend any funeral. Last seven years were not good in this respect, this year was good until Thursday. I came from work and heard of my mother’s cousins death, premature (she was just 58), but not unexpected. For the last ten years she had been fighting cancer. In the first battle fought in 2000 and 2001 she managed to overcome the disease. The tumour was dormant for next seven years and made itself felt in 2008. For a year therapy proved successful, aunt could function normally until July 2009, then her health began to deteriorate. Her doctors did not let up until the beginning of the previous week. Until then there was still a glimmer of hope…

Today I attended the funeral…

Regardless of the ceremony I felt some sort of anxiety. Exactly on 24 July a year ago my mother underwent a complicated surgery with some complications. I never felt as scared as on that day, those misgivings returned this year and coincided with the funeral. The feeling which keeps me company every day got so intense – is the end round the corner? We all have learnt to get on with it or to drive it away. My colleague leaves the office. Will she be back there tomorrow? Will she not be killed in a traffic accident on her way home? Will I return home safely? Will my both parents be alive in a year? Who will die first, mother or father? I ask such questions a few times a week, I have done so for many years and did not go crazy. How come? I wonder if anyone on 10 April 2010 had doubts if members of Polish delegation to Katyn would return home safely…

The relationships in our family were not very close and I did not take this loss very personally, nevertheless as every such event it made me ponder upon the fragility of human life.

This funeral was in a way odd. Firstly, I have never seen so many people weeping so loudly and openly at a funeral. Secondly, I treated the ceremony as a review of human reactions to bereavement.

My aunt was survived by:
1) Mother, my grandfather’s sister. I saw her at her husband’s funeral four years ago, I saw her at my grandfather’s funeral two years ago. Then she was dejected but she was bearing it up. It was the fourth funeral at which I saw mother crying over the grave of her child and it only strengthened by conviction nothing worse can happen.
2) Husband. I haven’t got a clue why, but many men refuse to accept how seriously ill their wives are and the death comes to them as a bolt from the blue. Women are harder, they have more courage to face up to critical situations, men try to deceive and delude themselves. Is it a way of coping with what they are not capable of coping with? God knows, they end up shocked, in tears.
3) Son. She had never been really proud of him. I looked at his face and my only diagnosis was disbelief. After two days it was still possible.
4) Sister. The most sane in the whole close family, despondent, but seeming to have got through the most difficult phase of mourning.
5) Granddaughter, aged 14. She could not help weeping during the whole ceremony. It is the age when teenagers find it hard to get to grips with their emotions, not the best time to see a member of family fading away and departing much too early.

I had more luck. When my maternal grandmother died I was only 4 and did not understand what was going on. When my maternal grandfather died I was 20. I was more mature and surely found it easier to tackle his decease. He was 87 then and died totally naturally, out of old age, in his sleep, without unnecessary suffering, having received last rites, ready to pass away. At least it gave some relief.

My paternal grandparents are both 84, they still manage on their own, but one day they’ll surely depart. When? How will I react? Uncertainty crops up once again…

And once again the world did not come to a standstill, although seemingly it should have…


Michael Dembinski said...

Faced with death (especially at a premature age), what we're really grappling with is the meaning of life. We'll certainly miss our nearest-and-dearest when they shuffle off this mortal coil, but the key thing is what they left behind. Moving forward with the understanding of why we're here before our atoms re-unite with the planet that bore us.

ut_eagle said...

Sorry, I'm not stalking you, I promise! Found your blog from Polandian and couldn't help commenting on this post.

You ask really great questions. I've heard very similar questions lately by close friends. I agree, most people fear death because of the unknown afterwards.

But there are answers. And they're not so hard to find. Keep looking, don't just stuff the feelings and wait for the next opportunity to think about them. You said you've wrestled with these questions for years... find the answers and don't stop until you are certain. It's possible to be certain. :)

I'm thinking particularly of Jesus's words in the gospel of John, chapter 5. He tells his followers: 24"I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. 25I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. "