Posts Tagged death

Public grief

A bench dedicated to a dead grandparent

I was walking around a little dam near my home and I saw that some new benches had been constructed in honour of deceased grandparents.  Having recently lost one of my grandparents and not having had the urge to construct a bench for them, I wondered why one would do so. Why do we build monuments to honour the dead? It isn’t for the dead. It’s for ourselves, of course, but it’s also for others.

Here are some possible reasons (some are positive, some are negative)

  1. We want to assuage our guilt (this one is a bit cynical, I know)
  2. We want people to know we cared (about our dead loved one) – self-gratification
  3. We want to spread the deceased’s ideals (think about hospitals, charities, trusts, erected in honour of certain people)
  4. We want them to become important to others – we impose the memory of this person on other people and with every person that is touched by it or just notices it, our loved one gains importance, an importance we feel is deserved
  5. We want their death to have meaning, to make some kind of difference
  6. We want to honour their last wishes (perhaps they wanted to have bench erected in their memory)
  7. We inform people they should appreciate their loved ones while they still can – we remind them of the inevitability and finality of death.
  8. We want to say something about the manner of their death, which should never be repeated (think of the holocaust and 9/11)
  9. It is not enough to feel our grief. We feel we need to do something with it, we need to act, we need to give it an outward expression. It is perhaps only a by-product of this that the grief becomes public and shared in some measure with the world.

One cannot walk past a bench or a monument dedicated to someone no longer living and not be moved in some way. I wonder if we’re more willing to listen to the dead than the living. We listen when it’s too late, when there is the most to regret and we realise what we’ve taken for granted. The living are less interesting because they can still fail us and there are still ample opportunities to listen, to make right. We build monuments to the dead, because we wish to hear them speak once more. We give them a stone substitute for a voice and we can’t help but listen.

A little plaque on a park bench
is your voice now
touching strangers
who sit and listen to the cold letters
they can’t help but listen
to the dead

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Help me into that good night

Are there circumstances under which you would consider suicide?

I want to live forever, but there are circumstances in which I think I would rather die. I believe that should be my right.

The 2004 film “The Sea Inside”  showcases (this is a true story) the life a quadriplegic man, Ramón, who fought for the right to be euthanized. His court cases failed and he eventually did manage to kill himself by procuring a solution of cyanide. Through his life (ironically) and his fight to die he inspired many, and later his death inspired more.

The writer Terry Pratchett is considering his own death, having been diagnosed with Alzheimers. He is featured in the documentary “Choosing to die”, which one can watch here (if this is not in fact a legal means of watching this please let me know. I was not sure).

I’m too much of a coward to try to kill myself unassisted, I think. I’d very much appreciate someone else to push the button, or at least hand me the final deadly tonic. Many people, like Ramón, need someone else to help them die – it’s hard to kill yourself if you can’t move.

If I find myself with an incurable disease that would destroy mind – that would either cause me to lose my memory, or my ability to think and reason – I would like to die before that happens, by my own hand if that is the only way. To have less than my full reason, to be anything less than me, that is a fate I cannot countenance. I would like to go to God (or nothingness) with all my mental faculties intact – I want to be me.  I only hope I have the time and the opportunity to decide.

I want to make a similar argument to the one I presented with regard to abortion  . Whether assisted suicide or euthanasia is right or wrong is not the issue. I do not agree with Ramón’s decision to end his life. I think he had much to offer the world even in his paralysed state and that his life did have meaning. But I also believe that it was his right to decide to die and that he should have been allowed the assistance he needed to make it so.

We’re willing to put horses, dogs, and cats out of their misery, without their consent. Why will we not do the same for people who beg us to give them this mercy? Perhaps we put out dogs and cats for our ourselves – to cut the costs, to put an end to the troubles we must endure in having a debilitatingly sick pet. But our religious dogma or our (selfish) love will not allow us to do the same for a human being. These are cynical statements, I know, but they are accusations we must face.

before your name is lost from my lips
help me into that good night
before I cannot form words
help me into that good night
before your face is just another face
help me into that good night
before the beauty and mystery of numbers become unintelligible
help me into that good night
before I lose all that I am
and become some lesser thing
help me into that good night
before you look into my eyes
and see not me staring back
help me into that good night

if you love me, you will help me
before I leave you
help me into that good night

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Lives lost

When people die, they lose their lives. But their lives are also lost, not all at once, but slowly, as the memory of them is erased. Perhaps the life of Nelson Mandela will never completely be lost, immortalised in history, in books, in the memory of one generation and the regard of those that follow. But most people are not so fortunate.

With your death, your own memories die with you. Your particular experience of the world is gone. The memory others have of you remains, until they too die, leaving behind only second and third hand tales. Some people keep diaries. Only the diaries of the “great” are read. For most, having kept no record, nothing but official documents and records, which get lost with every change of administration, remain.

It seems sad to me that the lives of most people on this planet are completely forgotten. Our “history” is but a biased selection of encounters deemed important. This forgetfulness vexes me because I have a peculiarly bad memory. My life is a vague blur just a few weeks into the past, as if that part of my life has already partly died.

The lives of my parents and grandparents will be lost too. Some families have a tradition of relating the tales of their forebears. Mine does not. I know little of the lives of my grandparents, nothing of my great-grandparents. On the one hand I understand the shackles of the past – that the world renews itself, a living thing, unburdened with its own history. But today, I mourn the loss of every little story that never gets told.

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