The Other I

May 14, 2018

In the end…

Filed under: Just Stuff,The English — theotheri @ 8:03 pm

“In the end, what gives life meaning is not only how it is lived, but how it draws to a close.”

Baroness Tessa Jowell

Image result for tessa jowell

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/tessa-jowell-cancer-lords-speech-brain-tumour-standing-ovation-a8178756.htmlThe Independent

 

Two days ago, Tessa Jowell, a member of Parliament, died of brain cancer.

She had been an extremely active and accomplished member of Parliament, and was deeply respected – I think even loved – by members of all parties.  She was described as one of the kindest and hard-working MP’s by fellow Labour party members as well as those from the Tory and Liberal parties.

In January, she addressed Parliament for the last time, asking them to do more to improve treatment for cancer patients.  Britain’s National Health Service lags behind most developed countries in treating cancer, and although it was too late for her, she spent her last months still working for others.  She brought the Parliament to tears with her address and received a standing ovation.

Since her death, I have been reflecting on how unusual her approach to her own death seems to me.  When I was 18, my own mother, suffering from cancer, was given 8 weeks to live.  She spent that time preparing her husband and her ten children between the ages of 7 and 19 for life after her death.  She talked to us openly about dying, and I am sure she agreed with my father to his remarriage which was announced within weeks after she died.

None of us, including my mother, could possibly have appreciated the strength of the legacy she was leaving us with her courageous and honest facing of the painful reality of her death at the age of 48.  But when my father died 19 years later, then my younger sister, and recently a younger brother died, they each built on that legacy, facing with courage and honesty the reality of death, and leaving their own legacies to the loved ones who survived them

I didn’t realize until I moved with my husband to England to care for his dying father how unusual this legacy was.  I remember my first insight was in the hospital emergency room when I said to the attending nurse that I did not think my father-in-law was dying.  The look of shock on her face showed her amazement that I would so much as use the term “dying.”  During the year in which we cared for him, I learned more than once that death was not something one spoke about out loud, no matter how imminent it was.

And so Tessa Jowell’s speech to Parliament impressed me as both courageous and culturally quite exceptional.

And now I find myself wondering about other cultures.  Obviously it isn’t something I can explore on Google.  I’m not aware, in fact, of any research comparing cultural attitudes like this.  But the reality of death is not fake news for any of us.  How do different communities face it?  And what are the different ways in which we support each other?

 

4 Comments »

  1. Amazing courage! To lose ones dear right before one’s eyes at that young age and be helpless about it, I shudder to think how each one of you coped up. I’ve no personal experience of that kind though there were three elders in my family sick to very sick for over 20 years. But it was a torture to be able to do nothing about it except be around. In our set up, the inputs from religion help a lot. That was the case at least up to the earlier generation. My generation is torn between religious belief’s and scientific rationality. Personally I lean towards belief’s to derive some strength needed in rough times like now I’m in. With us the after-life is not an assured bliss because of the karmic load accumulated in this life! The yearning is for a permanent union with the almighty with no cycle of rebirth.

    In a lighter vein, all I’ve to do dispel any yearning for immortality or even long life is to read newspaper headlines for a few days!

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    Comment by tskraghu — May 15, 2018 @ 2:00 am | Reply

  2. Maurice Maeterlinck wrote an essay called “Death” more than a century ago that seems still remarkably relevant. It’s available at gutenberg.org.

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    Comment by Thomas J. Hubschman — May 15, 2018 @ 5:18 pm | Reply

    • Thank you so much, Raghu, for sharing your thoughts. I agree that religious belief is often a strong support in the face of the reality of death. It helped my mother who told me that when she was standing before the gates of heaven and asked why she should be given entrance, she would say that she had accepted and loved all the children God sent her. Today, though, my generation, like yours, is divided between religious belief and scientific reasoning. Not many people seem to understand, though, just how uncertain scientific “facts” are and how often they change. Nor that religious belief is, by definition, not based on any hard evidence whatsoever.

      Yes, you say one can be cured of any yearning for immortality by reading the newspapers for a few days. What cured me was the prospect of an eternity sitting on a cloud adoring an all-powerful God who was supposed to be all-loving, but who at the same time threatened to punish with eternal hell-fire anyone who displeased him & didn’t ask for forgiveness in time. Whether we get it from the news or religious rhetoric, I guess it’s called the power of evil. I don’t know why, but the only answer that satisfies me is the conclusion that as a species, we humans cannot but live in mystery — however much we try to figure out what happens next. And why.

      We can’t even predict tomorrow’s weather with total confidence!

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      Comment by theotheri — May 15, 2018 @ 8:02 pm | Reply

    • Tom – Per your suggestion, I have just read Maeterlinck’s essay on death. I agree: it is still incredibly relevant. I would have guessed it was written in the 21st century, not the 19th. In recent years I have thought that with death, we may enter into a much larger consciousness, not bound by the limitations of human conscious dependent on the body. But obviously, I have never thought it through with the depth Maeterlinck did. Thank you for suggesting it.

      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by theotheri — May 15, 2018 @ 8:08 pm | Reply


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