Sunday, 23 September 2012

Living Well and Dying better

The writer Zola in his book the Debacle writes of the French soldiers dying from their wounds in the Franco Prussian war being berated by an officer to ‘die like men.’
Yesterday, I went to the memorial service of a man I had not seen for a long time who had been seriously ill for a long period and eventually passed away. He was in his early sixties.
The tributes made me think how well he had lived and how well he had died. 
A pastor declared how he had lived and died a Christian. It was not the usual tribute cobbled together by the family and read out by a minister who had not even met the deceased.
Two things struck me. His children said how he had been a friend and a father. He had left his children prepared for the world and with a positive image of a father not as a tyrant or conversely just a ‘money tree.’ If they choose to follow the Christian faith it is their own decision but they can not say they wanted for guidance or an example.
The other thing I heard was that in his last days the man listened to hours of tapes by a favourite preacher. The dying man was preparing for eternity not reminding himself of his achievements or bewailing lost opportunities. I have spent time with people who realise they are very ill and I have known some who want to quickly finish off a project or make sure their possessions go to the right place. This man did make arrangements for his projects to be stored but he also made arrangements for others to benefit by them.
An old mystic I once read said we should not run from the time left and try and do as much as we can but rather we should advance towards it. 
Thomas Gray’s elegy of a country churchyard tells of what a great leveler death is. The poor, the unknown and famous all lie in the same patch of earth. I like to think this verse describes Paul Clowney. 

Large was his bounty, and his soul sincere
Heaven did a recompense as largely send:
He gave to Misery all he had, a tear
He gained from Heaven ( ‘twas all he wished ) a friend