Springingtiger's Blog


Slip Sliding Away

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Several years ago as one of Neelam’s grandmothers was dying she had family in constant attendance, both day and night. On one day, at last, she was left alone for just a few minutes, in those few short minutes she slipped away. More recently another had decided it was time to die and was fading before our eyes. At that point her children started to Skype all her relatives, who were not present, so that she could say, or wave, goodbye. In the end she gave up, got up then waited for a few months before departing.

It is distracting and disturbing for the dying to be surrounded by emotional relatives unwilling to let them go, particularly when they are more than ready to die. It is true of many people, like Neelam’s grandmother, that they wait for a moment alone when they can leave in peace, without enduring the upset of their family. Ideally death should be a peaceful dignified process in which the dying are supported in their choices, the focus should be on the happy and peaceful departure of the one dying and it is not appropriate to selfishly hold them back. Holding on to one who knows it’s time to go is not love, it is rather, cruelty. Love knows when to let go, if we allow our pain to hold back the dying it is selfishness, however understandable.

There comes a point in someone’s life when it is appropriate to want to die. I am not talking about suicide as a result of depression, but of a natural part of the aging process, when a person’s life is complete, they have done what they must,, they are tired and there is no reason to continue. It is wrong to force people to remain just because we will miss them, people have a right to die, as long as it is natural to do so. Of course, death from suicide or illness is another matter, I believe we should try to cure disease and that the suicidal should wait a while as things may well get better. However if someone’s recovery from illness will leave them unable to enjoy life, should we interfere with the dying process, particularly if they express a wish to die?

I think, to some extent, if our wish to die is thwarted or impeded, we have ourselves to blame. There are certain cultural traditions around death which we should, perhaps, observe (saying goodbye on Skype is not one of these). However, I think we have a duty to make our wishes concerning our own deaths very clear, and I believe we have the right, as long as we remain within the law, to have those wishes honoured. I do not believe, we have a right to cause unnecessary distress, which is why we should prepare those around us for our death. It is better for them, and for us, if all are clear on what is going to happen and why. It is perfectly acceptable to plan our own funeral, at which we will not be present, how much more logical to plan our death, add which we will? A good death is a positive experience for all concerned, a little forethought makes a good death more likely and is a passing gift for those we leave behind.

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