Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Of life and death

I've had three brushes with mortality over the past couple of weeks; three small tragedies which barely made a ripple on the world but which I think sum up three different attitudes, or perhaps that should be approaches, to life and to death.

The first was a relentlessly cheerful and old fashioned lady who lived quietly in the small Borders village where my wife grew up. She stayed in a council house and survived on very little but wanted nothing more, thriving on contact with her large, widespread family. At the age of eighty five she cleaned the local bowling club, attended the village church every Sunday and spent much of her time visiting and caring for neighbours and friends who were less sprightly than herself. A couple of weeks ago she went for her usual Friday game of bowls and into the club for a cup of tea and a chat before collapsing. The doctor said she had suffered a brain aneurism and after the family had the opportunity to say goodbye her life support was switched off.
The funeral took place on the first proper day of summer in the village churchyard just a few yards from where Beatrix Potter's brother is buried. Afterwards, when I spoke to her sons and daughters they insisted that she had always said the way she died, virtually gone in a few heartbeats, was the way she had wanted to go, and that, despite their grief, they were happy she had been given her wish.

The second came on Sunday, while we were in Edinburgh watching my daughter Nikki compete in the Edinburgh half-marathon. When we got back to the friends' where we were staying my eldest daughter Kara got a phone call informing her that a girl who grew up with her boyfriend had died suddenly. In the old cliche, she had everything to live for. At the age of 23, she was about to graduate with an arts degree and was intelligent, talented, beautiful and loved by everyone who came into contact with her. Unfortunately, all that means nothing when you suffer from depression. One morning she woke up and decided she could no longer live with the person she believed she was and took her own life.

The third was a man with a genuine lust for life. At his funeral on Monday more than 2,000 people turned out to say goodbye, far to many for the little church at Blairlogie in the shadow of the Ochil Hills, and we stood outside in the sunshine, with the birds singing in the trees and listened to a ceremony that was in turns poignant, comic and tragic. Again, he had everything to live for. A wonderful wife and a son who was his absolute pride. He ran his own welding business and bred and showed Highland cattle and was a stalwart of the local rugby club. Somehow he managed to find time to chair half a dozen different societies and every meeting must have been hilarious. In his time he'd been a hell-traiser, but in the nicest possible way. Two years ago, at the age of 49, he was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour. The doctors told his wife, a full time school teacher, that he had only a few weeks to live. From that moment onwards he fought for every moment to win another day with his family and never stopped fighting until the frailties of his body overcame the strength of his spirit.

I thought his wife's summing up of his approach to those final two years was worth sharing.

 Remember yesterday, dream about tomorrow, but live for today.