Monday, 6 April 2015

"We're here only in passing"

24 July 2010

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…

Easter, on the word of Christian beliefs, the celebration of rebirth. Christians trust Jesus died and resurrected and so one day all His followers will. This belief is meant to fill people with hope that life does not cease at the moment of demise. One’s soul just enters a different dimension, a transition to another phase in the pursuit of eternal life.

Rozłąka naszym losem.
Spotkanie naszą nadzieją.

Fate parts us, but we ought to hope one day we will reunite. Faith, whether Christian, or any other, is probably meant to help people cope with bereavement.

Recent departure of my grandma was not my first close encounter to death. Six and a half years ago my maternal grandfather passed away. The two deceases made me ponder upon the nature of death, as a down-to-earth, yet an immensely complicated phenomenon. In medical terms a decease is a moment when functions of a human body come to a halt, heart ceases to beat, brain stops working (to be more precise these processes do not have to terminate at the same moment). In some spiritual context, the body dies down, yet the soul might fly away from the body. In psychological dimension the passage from “alive” to “dead” state means a human being once “is” and then “is not”, something one can find hard to comprehend.

You could argue whether every death brings out comparable feelings of sorrow leaving out extreme examples, such as death of Stalin, which filled millions of people with joy and hope for communist regime thawing out). Perception and coping with death from what I have observed depends on combination of three factors:

1) Whether a person died young, pre-maturely or naturally, out of old age. It seems it easier to come to terms with a decease of a person who passes away having lived until the grand old age, since being born and dying are an indispensable part of each human’s existence and whenever someone’s lifeline ends naturally rather is being cut across.

2) Whether a departure is expected or sudden. A death preceded by long illness helps relatives prepare (if possible at all) to cope with bereavement. A death which strikes out of the blue comes a much bigger shock to family of the deceased.

3) Whether a death is quick or long-lasting. A fast decease, which does not cause a dead person suffer a lot before breathing their last might give some comfort to their relative, while a long-lasting death means usually many people suffer together with the terminally ill.

My recent experience tells me it is somewhat easier to reconcile to loss of grandma if I bear in mind she lived long in good health, I had some time to face up to the thought the decease is inexorable (half a year ago I knew chances she would recover were low, more than two weeks before death it became clear it was just a matter of time). The worst period for me was essentially “the wait”, since without going into details grandma’s farewell with this world lasted exactly two weeks, during which she knew what was going on with her and suffered badly. Doctors in the hospital could at best ease her pain and wait.

The first half of March has brought on thoughts on one of the controversial ethical issues in the public discourse – euthanasia, a dilemma I had had no clear-cut opinion on. Now I am sure I am against it. I have realised departure has to ensue naturally, no matter how long the pre-death agony lasts. I cannot imagine anyone from the family instructing a doctor to put grandma out of misery. Yet I have to confess the phone call from the hospital which woke us up before dawn on 15 March brought a bit of relief that grandma no longer suffered.

Those two weeks also triggered the question about the sense of suffering. I doubt there can be any good answer to it. Suffering is a part of divine plan and we as humans should not interfere.

Grandma was buried in a relatively new part of cemetery in Skolimow. After the funeral I looked around to learn grandma’s grave is surrounded by graves of people who died in their 50s, 60s or early 70s. I found only three graves of people aged above 80 the moment they passed away and only one grave of a 91-year-old woman, older than my grandma. That sample of burial grounds could give lie to a rising life expectancy, yet if our goal is other than calling into question statistics, the conclusion is only one – the surrounding graves symbolise far too many premature deceases…

The day after the funeral I had to take a business trip to a client seated some 50 kilometres from Poznan. Since four persons were travelling and the destination was far away from the nearest train station, it was most convenient and economical to go by a company car. Imagine the distance from Poznan to Warsaw can be covered within less than two and a half hours. Horrifyingly, driving 200 kmph at the motorways is ordinary for most sales representatives and senior managers having company cars at their disposal, who do not have to worry about sky-high petrol consumption but have too little time to waste it on slow driving. Oddly enough most of those people have small children, yet the thought their (and not only their) offspring could become semi-orphans far too early does not put them off lunatic driving. Well, maybe the word “lunatic” is not the most suitable, since the driver was confident and we did not have any situation threatening an accident, yet the very speed of 200 kmph is excessive.

Memento mori… Jesteśmy tu tylkona chwilę

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