Thursday, 10 March 2011

Knocking On Heaven's Door

Knockin' on heaven's door, a lyric associated with Bob Dylan. Spelt with a “g”the line appears more sinister. Full of foreboding – knocking frantically on heaven's door, a refusal to be let in. Isn't this what most of us imagine? An image that wouldn't look out of place in a comic strip. If you hold other beliefs, then beware. Reincarnation does not exist, and spiritual inclinations absurd. Issue dismissed. Death feared, considered final. These are not my views, but the views of bigger society. Humans, have a right to life, but not in how they choose to die.

A society that's pro-life, yet fails to care. Saving lives, the mantra, prolonging it the goal. Life, a natural cycle in which death plays a part. Human beings not exempt from this fate. Death, as much a teacher, in this circular existence we call life. A process of letting go. It's the letting go that's frowned upon. How dare we give up, withhold treatment, sentence others to their end. The best gift we can give the dying is in letting go. Releasing our attachment, saying our goodbyes. Their wish for a dignified death fulfilled.

I speak from experience. A month on a hospital ward at my Nan's bedside. A massive stroke immobilising her down one side, affecting her capacity to swallow. Drifting in and out of consciousness, treatment not working and causing her obvious distress. Witnessing life-saving work causing pain, and not relief. Palliative care, our decision, against the wishes of qualified medical staff. Abandoned for allowing our loved one to die. Care now left to us to provide. Yes she had days where she surprisingly rallied and these memories I treasure. Three generations of women together, a room filled with laughter. Nan singing the Louie Armstrong classic, What A Wonderful World in a frail whisper. Those last days she gave to us to remember.

Consciousness fading, coma returned. Bedside duty, a case of being there – to hold her hand, stroke her forehead, moisten her lips and brush her hair. Breath becoming laboured, nearing death's door. This end of life care, highly charged with emotion and reward. Almost four years ago, this lesson keeps on giving. My Nan may have been 83, so good innings you might say, but death makes no concessions. It's applicable to any age, in sickness or in health. Coming to all of us in time or in the blink of a eye.

This was not meant to be morose, just my attempt to unlock those pearly gates. Bring about an open debate. “How people die remains in the memory of those who live on”, Dame Cicely Saunders said. So it does, unless we can learn to embrace death. Learning from its wisdom. Providing care in abidance with others wishes, their best interests at heart. Knowing that to love unconditionally is to let them go. Dying matters to everyone - why deprive yourself of this precious gift? There's life in death.