The Sacredness of Life

    As I get older I notice that more and more people are dying. I suppose this is to be expected! I also notice how some elderly people feel quite proud of the fact that they are still alive while their friends have long since died off. Dying is quite natural, after all, and for many the thought of death even brings a sense of quiet relief that they don’t like to talk about.

    I noticed the shift in Mrs B the moment she walked into my consulting room. She is an old patient of mine who has had a serious chronic disease for the past fifteen years. It is life threatening, and most people eventually succumb to this condition with increasing paralysis; nevertheless Mrs B has wonderful support systems and still even manages to work half-days a few times a week. I have watched her in her ups and downs and seen the efforts of her husband to cheer her up, but despite all our efforts Mrs B remained a negative, anxious and rather pessimistic person.

    Until, that is, when just by chance a tumour in her lung was detected during a routine scan. Further investigation showed the presence of other tumours, and a diagnosis of lung cancer with metastatic spread was made.

    And then the shift took place. Slowly at first, as she got over the shock of the diagnosis of another serious condition, and then the gradual acceptance of her situation and the confrontation with her mortality. I watched her very closely as she came for treatment, now weekly, and saw the sparkle in her eyes that had been so rare before. She seemed more present, and was even able to laugh about her condition. There were jokes about life after death and about what music should be played at the funeral, and she winked at me with a good-naturedness and even mischievousness that was quite disarming.

    When she left and I had a few moments to myself, I recalled the time I had to bury my first child, who had died during birth. We were travelling in Germany at the time with little money to spare, and I can remember how it felt digging the grave myself in an ancient cemetery. My wife at the time was still in hospital, and only the German ‘death’ woman and a friend were with me. I dug the hole and placed the beautiful body of my son into it, and listened to the heavy thuds of the earth falling on the body. It was such a moment of sacredness, in this very special cemetery behind the gate and surrounded by tall and ancient trees.

    And when I stamped my feet on the grave

    The thumping soon became a dance

    And I felt both the sadness and joy

    Well up in my heart

    And I knew then

    That life and death

    Are so close

    And in that space

    Sacredness arises

    And the tears that ran down my face

    Released me to the great mystery of it all.

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