Ah me! This is a dialogue between Karen and I which has brought out sentiments around caring for the dying, and the ‘world’ one enters with them. Brilliant!
Karen You wrote recently to suggest that we open a dialogue between us around the comments that I made about your piece on ‘Non-becoming’, which you posted in December. The comments that I made on the post, were:
‘I have spent a lot of time this year being with elderly relatives whose lives are coming to an end, have become dependent on others to stay alive but don’t seem ready to die. It has made me question what it means to ‘be alive’. I thought I knew and I find that I don’t – not fully, anyway. This is a helpful reminder – thank you, Rev. Mugo.’
More recently, you wrote a piece entitled ‘When a Smile is All’ in which you comment:
Mugo ‘Yes, it is odd to be caught in this in-between world within the community. Taking care not to spread the cold; we take a lot of care. Not mixing, eating alone, not joining in kitchen clean-up, sanitising hands, handles etc. At least we can share a smile. I’m not dying but it feels that way sometimes. My sympathy goes out to those who are actually and actively dying. Human, animal, the earth’.
Karen It immediately struck me that that is what I was getting at. There is life, there is death but there is something ‘in-between’. Stuff still goes on in this ‘in-between’ world, for both the people I have looked after /still look after, towards the end of their days and for the person doing the looking after, also. There is a disengagement with the world. For the person doing the dying, this is voluntary, welcomed even but there is still a resistance to leave the world altogether. For the person doing the looking after (me), there is a necessity to inhabit that ‘in-between’ space too, because that is the only way to understand the needs of the person you are helping, and yet the everyday world makes no allowance, for you aren’t the one dying; yet in a way, you are. I have sensed, I suppose, that someone’s dying state is not their’s alone. That anyone with them, who is willing to ‘be’ with them, lives in this limbo, too. It is a bit like being apart from things when you have a cold but it lasts longer than a cold.
I think that I have had romantic ideas about death, in the past. I did some nursing in my late teens, so I have been with the dying, many times but recently, my experience of it, my observation of it, is quite different. When I was younger, I could see death as a release of something. My experience with my dad was quite different. It was protracted and agonising for him. For my Mum, she has been living in this ‘in-between’ state for about five years and she is scared. For my aunt, likewise, although in her case it is more of a state of purgatory for her husband than for her. To a degree, this is how David lives too. Life and death are just moments in time and yet this phase before physical death occurs has, in my experience, hung heavy on those who go through it. It is ‘grey’, it is hard to bear. It is a state of not being of life but not ceasing, either. It is a place of training but it is not pretty.
I don’t know if any of that makes sense but I thought that I would write it to you, anyway.
Mugo Makes sense to me. And thanks for back and forth conversation. I hope this has been stimulating for others to read. And there may be something in what you have written that I’ll pick up on to start a post.