Category Archives: Attitudes to death

Time to make way

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Pills

 

A letter in last Thursday’s Times tells us something, perhaps, about the evolution of society’s thinking about dying, death, the competition for NHS resources, futile care and the declining value life holds for the ageing and the elderly both in the eyes of society and in their own eyes:

Sir, It makes sense to limit some expensive drug treatments to the people who can best benefit society as well as improving the quality of life for the patient. I am an old person (73) and an ex-nurse and I do not understand why so many oldies are obsessed with getting every treatment available, to prolong their lives.

My mental and physical health are deteriorating. This is a fact of life, not a complaint. If I should become ill I will gladly forgo any expensive cure to allow someone younger than me to improve their opportunity of a better quality of life, and the chance of being more use to society. I ask only for palliative care and the chance of a quick release from life when I feel ready to go. I am not alone in this attitude.

The fact is that many old people are a burden on society. Like all nurses I have cared for the elderly as well as I could, but there were many occasions when I wondered why we were doing it. People who cannot accept this argument should work for a few months in a care home where many patients are demented, incontinent, unable to care for themselves, and have no visitors.

Like many of my friends I have made a living will to express my wishes in the event of acute illness. I would like to be able to apply for a prescription which could be used if I ever feel like a quiet and peaceful exit before things get too bad.

Gill Pharaoh — Pinner, Middx

Matthew Parris made this contribution to the debate:

I’m 65 this year and I wouldn’t dream of expecting the taxpayer to divert scarce funds my way for expensive drugs that would do more good for a teenager. My conscience even troubled me over the cost to the NHS of an operation last December to stop my right hand clawing up, as I can manage perfectly well without a couple of fingers.

My late father (a retired electrical power engineer) told me after the Chernobyl disaster that they should use oldies like him to go in and secure the generators. He was serious. I never admired him more.

Did Marc Bolan predict his own death?

Monday, 6 January 2014

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Posted by Richard Rawlinson

T-Rex star Marc Bolan died, aged 29, in a car crash in west London in the early hours of a September morning in 1977. His girlfriend Gloria Jones was driving him home from a night in Mayfair when her purple Mini smashed into a tree by the side of the road. Even today, flowers are still placed to mark the spot.

When Elvis Presley died a month before, Bolan is reported to have made the somewhat egotistical comment, ‘I’m really glad I didn’t die today because I wouldn’t have made the main story.’ As it turns out, he died on the same day as Maria Callas, with him being the bigger story, at least in this country.

Rock fans create legends around their heroes, and T-Rex lyrics have since been analysed for meaning linked to his death. Bolan’s last single, Celebrate Summer, includes the line, ‘Summer is heaven in seventy-seven’. His song, Solid Gold East Action, includes the line, ‘Easy as picking foxes from a tree’: the numberplate of the Mini was FOX 661L.

Footnote: John Lennon was shot dead in 1980 having just got out of his limo onto the pavement outside his Manhattan apartment block. Reporters have since unearthed quotes by the former Beatle such as, ‘I’m not afraid of death because I don’t believe in it. It’s just getting out of one car, and into another’.

Meanwhile, death preoccupied some of the so-called 27 Club, rock and pop stars including Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse, who all died aged 27. Cobain is quoted as saying, ‘If you die you’re completely happy and your soul somewhere lives on. I’m not afraid of dying. Total peace after death’. Winehouse once said, ‘If I died tomorrow, I would be a happy girl’.

bowie at funeral

David Bowie at Marc Bolan’s funeral

The makes-you-proud-to-be-British way of death

Thursday, 2 January 2014

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Alice Pitman, in the Christmas edition of the Oldie magazine, describes her extremely unwell 88 year-old mother rising to the occasion in hospital: 

Eventually a porter came and perfunctorily wheeled her to theatre. [We] followed down an interminably long corridor, the Aged P issuing instructions over her shoulder about what we were to do if she didn’t make it. Her will was in her knicker drawer. She wanted to be buried, not cremated. “I want the worms to eat me!” she exclaimed with reckless candour (a couple waiting for the lift looked horrified). “Don’t waste money on an expensive coffin. One of those cheap wicker ones will do. Oh, and no church service. I’m 99 per cent certain God doesn’t exist. In fact, scrap the funeral altogether. I don’t want one…” “It’s not up to you!” said [my husband], his stiff upper lip betraying a quiver of emotion. 

FOOTNOTE: Though her doctors abandon all hope for her, she survives. 

 

Caitlin Moran offers posthumous advice to her daughter

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

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Here’s one we missed earlier: journalist Caitlin Moran’s draft last letter to her daughter published in The Times in July of last year (remember 2013?). You can find the entire article (£) here

My daughter is about to turn 13 and I’ve been smoking a lot recently, and so – in the wee small hours, when my lungs feel like there’s a small mouse inside them, scratching to get out – I’ve thought about writing her one of those “Now I’m Dead, Here’s My Letter Of Advice For You To Consult As You Continue Your Now Motherless Life” letters. Here’s the first draft. Might tweak it a bit later. When I’ve had another fag.

“Dear Lizzie. Hello, it’s Mummy. I’m dead. Sorry about that. I hope the funeral was good – did Daddy play Don’t Stop Me Now by Queen when my coffin went into the cremator? I hope everyone sang along and did air guitar, as I stipulated. And wore the stick-on Freddie Mercury moustaches, as I ordered in the ‘My Funeral Plan’ document that’s been pinned on the fridge since 2008, when I had that extremely self-pitying cold.

“Look – here are a couple of things I’ve learnt on the way that you might find useful in the coming years. It’s not an exhaustive list, but it’s a good start… The main thing is just to try to be nice … Just resolve to shine, constantly and steadily, like a warm lamp in the corner, and people will want to move towards you in order to feel happy, and to read things more clearly. You will be bright and constant in a world of dark and flux, and this will save you the anxiety of other, ultimately less satisfying things like ‘being cool’, ‘being more successful than everyone else’ and ‘being very thin’.

“Second, always remember that, nine times out of ten, you probably aren’t having a full-on nervous breakdown – you just need a cup of tea and a biscuit. You’d be amazed how easily and repeatedly you can confuse the two. Get a big biscuit tin.

“Three – always pick up worms off the pavement and put them on the grass. They’re having a bad day, and they’re good for… the earth or something (ask Daddy more about this; am a bit sketchy).

“Four: choose your friends because you feel most like yourself around them, because the jokes are easy and you feel like you’re in your best outfit when you’re with them, even though you’re just in a T-shirt. Never love someone whom you think you need to mend – or who makes you feel like you should be mended. There are boys out there who look for shining girls; they will stand next to you and say quiet things in your ear that only you can hear and that will slowly drain the joy out of your heart. The books about vampires are true, baby. Drive a stake through their hearts and run away.

“This segues into the next tip: life divides into AMAZING ENJOYABLE TIMES and APPALLING EXPERIENCES THAT WILL MAKE FUTURE AMAZING ANECDOTES. However awful, you can get through any experience if you imagine yourself, in the future, telling your friends about it as they scream, with increasing disbelief, ‘NO! NO!’ Even when Jesus was on the cross, I bet He was thinking, ‘When I rise in three days, the disciples aren’t going to believe this when I tell them about it.’

“Babyiest, see as many sunrises and sunsets as you can. Run across roads to smell fat roses. Always believe you can change the world – even if it’s only a tiny bit, because every tiny bit needed someone who changed it. Think of yourself as a silver rocket – use loud music as your fuel; books like maps and co-ordinates for how to get there. Host extravagantly, love constantly, dance in comfortable shoes, talk to Daddy and Nancy about me every day and never, ever start smoking. It’s like buying a fun baby dragon that will grow and eventually burn down your f***ing house.

“Love, Mummy.”

Should women be allowed to go to funerals?

Thursday, 17 October 2013

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I don’t suppose there can be many ‘indigenous’ funerals held these days which prohibit the presence of women. There may be one or two redoubts in Presbyterian Scotland. Bucking the trend in the wider community, though, many Muslims prohibit their presence. 

Why ban women from funerals? To spare their feelings, mostly. Or put it another way, because they can’t be relied on to hold themselves in check. Women, as is well known, are easily subverted by the slightest emotion. They are prone to making a scene and creating disorder. 

This, at least, is the consideration which informs a thumbs-up for female funeral attendance at Muslim funerals in America, where Shaykh Luqman Ahmad has delivered this ruling

based upon the fact that Muslims in America, as a rule do not engage in the practices of wailing, tearing clothing, beating the cheeks, and hollering out bad statements at funerals, and the evidence from the sunna of the Prophet (SAWS) and the view of the scholars we have mentioned, it is not haram for Muslim women to accompany the funeral procession to the grave sites as long as they are able to control themselves … If there is a probability that attendance at the burial will stir emotions to a degree where unlawful behavior will likely occur … then it is prohibitively disliked.

Women: know your limits

Funerals for peace?

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

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Posted by Vale

Why don’t we want to fight any more? After centuries of sending out the gunboats, the bombers or the troopships, with a wave, a cheery heart and perhaps a chorus of ‘Goodbyee’ suddenly we are not so keen. Britain’s reputation is at stake. Has the British bulldog turned into a lapdog?

The Ministry of Defence is so worried that they have commissioned a study. What can they do to make the idea of going to war more appealing?

One of the answers, as ever, is by making sure we are ignorant of the consequences and for the first time it puts fds in the firing line.

The Guardian reports that the MoD had considered a number of steps, including reducing:

“the profile of the repatriation ceremonies” – an apparent reference to the processions of hearses carrying coffins draped in the union flag that were driven through towns near RAF bases where bodies were brought back.

For four years up to 2011, 345 servicemen killed in action were brought back to RAF Lyneham and driven through Royal Wootton Bassett, in Wiltshire, in front of crowds of mourners. Since then, bodies have been repatriated via RAF Brize Norton, in Oxfordshire, with hearses driven through nearby Carterton.

The MoD’s suggestion received a scathing reaction from some families of dead military personnel. Deborah Allbutt, whose husband Stephen was killed in a friendly fire incident in Iraq in 2003, described the proposals for repatriation ceremonies as “brushing the deaths under the carpet”.

What do you think? Should these ceremonies go – for the greater good of course?

You can read the full article here.

As a reminder, here’s a memory of the good old days:

What’s next?

Friday, 27 September 2013

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Don’t underestimate the insistence of the human ego on a negotiated immortality and the dread of losing even this. If all the people on earth die, and there are no more to come, it also means that my traces, my genes and the children who carry them, my influence on others, words I have written and spoken, music and art I may have created, all the shouts and whispers of who I am, are also erased. I die twice. SANDRA SHAPIRO

While I do care about the future of my friends and family, I do the things I enjoy doing regardless of what happens after my death because, according to my existentialist perspective, there is no purpose to life besides taking advantage of what it gives us. NATALIE BARMAN

Source in response to this

The Protestant death ethic

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Puritan

 

From the Westminster Confession of Faith, 1646, the foundational doctrine of the Scottish reformation church. 

WHEN any person departeth this life, let the dead body, upon the day of burial, be decently attended from the house to the place appointed for publick burial, and there immediately interred, without any ceremony.

And because the custom of kneeling down, and praying by or towards the dead corpse, and other such usages, in the place where it lies before it be carried to burial, are superstitious; and for that praying, reading, and singing, both in going to and at the grave, have been grossly abused, are no way beneficial to the dead, and have proved many ways hurtful to the living; therefore let all such things be laid aside.

Howbeit, we judge it very convenient, that the Christian friends, which accompany the dead body to the place appointed for publick burial, do apply themselves to meditations and conferences suitable to the occasion; and that the minister, as upon other occasions, so at this time, if he be present, may put them in remembrance of their duty.

Monday, 23 September 2013

 

Posted by Richard Rawlinson

If you watch this 1912 film of the funeral of the Salvation Army founder William Booth, you’ll notice that many of the mourners in the streets of London are wearing white armbands. Salvationists see the death of the faithful as a ‘Promotion to Glory’, hence the white armbands on uniformed ‘soldiers’ of the church, along with the uplifting sound of a brass band. 

 

ED’S NOTE: The hymn you hear is Shall We Gather at the River, an old spiritual. Below is a version by Willie Nelson. 

 

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