As She Lay Dying: The Beginning (of the End)

Deep down, I think we all share a similar, secret belief that death is for other people. Not us. We can cheat it.

Over the past few weeks, most of this little story I’ve been wanting to write has been in my head, because, well life just gets in the way. What with kids, house, a business.. Pardon the pun, but there just isn’t that much time left over.

And yet, over the past few weeks, little things have happened that somehow contribute to the story but have altered my original thought processes somewhat. Somehow the story has become about these recent observations; how we tend to think and feel about the idea of dying and our attitudes towards it.

Firstly, a very religious friend off on a wild trek somewhere in the world with her husband wrote a post on Facebook about waking that morning with severe kidney stone pain. “Luckily, my beloved prayed for me,” she wrote. “And the pain went away.”

Right.

Then we have the beautiful, Insta-famous couple, living the dream, sharing their amazing journey, travelling the world teaching workshops, madly in love and now with a young toddler.  Their post depicted they were reeling from shock. Aghast. Traumatised.

Apparently, having just arrived in a particular third world country, they hired a motorbike to get to their destination. Unfortunately, Mumma’s skirt got caught in the back wheel and she came off. Did I mention the baby was strapped to her chest? Luckily, nobody was seriously hurt. Mum ended up with a few bruises, but had instinctively created such a strong cocoon around the child at that moment, that the baby was absolutely fine.

The shock wasn’t just from the incident though, it was from the fact that it had happened at all. “Why us?”  The writer seemed to be asking. “What’s the message? What are we not getting? We don’t believe in coincidences. Something is going on. We have had other traumatic events lately, not just this one. The universe is obviously trying to tell us something.”

Umm, that you took a crazy risk, were very lucky but not special after all?

Regardless of how nice you are, it’s natural to be judgy as a human, and after I read this post I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It totally wound me up because it was written by a grown-up, not a teenager or a young adult whom you might forgive for believing they are unique, protected and therefore completely invincible. Trust me, I don’t live my life worrying about what might happen – I am that glass-full kind of person – but here were two people in shock, not just because they had survived what could have been a serious accident, but because they had assumed the universe was looking after them. They truly believed they could do whatever they wanted and it would always be fine.

As with the example before, it always strikes me that this kind of fervour, whether religious or otherwise, brings with it complete ego-centrism in otherwise nice people: “Hey, excuse me Almighty Father/Universal energy, I know you are busy creating dangerous Earthquakes, landslides, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions in poverty-stricken areas of the world where people’s lives are already completely shit, but have you got a moment to quickly sort out this pain thing for my wife so we can get cracking on our trip? Awesome! Cheers mate.”

I live in a small town and as such, I feel connected, by one degree to most serious events that happen here. We seem to have more than our fair share of deaths and this includes adults in their 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s as well as children. When I was growing up, I don’t remember anyone in my school dying, but in my part of the world at least, we don’t seem to be cheating death or serious accidents right now.  I have even heard that the local paramedics have nicknamed our town “Summer Bay” (as in Home & Away).  Last week, for example, out of the blue, I discovered that the fifteen year-old son of an acquaintance of mine had been discovered dead in the shower. Just like that. He was hanging out with a friend who went to check on him after realising he had been gone for a long time. That poor young lad had to break down the door and now the friend and the deceased boy’s family will have to cope with this trauma for the rest of their lives. No suspicious circumstances. Was the praying not loud enough? Does God pick and choose?

When I first discovered my mum was going to die, of course I couldn’t believe it because she was too young and too strong and too energetic. It didn’t make sense. And that’s because it rarely does. Up until that moment, she had been quite well. And then all of a sudden she wasn’t.

When I visited my mum just after she had been told she had six months to live, I found her in the middle of a clear out. She had everything out of her cupboards and drawers, ready to give away, chuck out or send to charity. “What do I need it for?” she said. I guess she felt like she had to do something. And at that particular moment, I sensed an almost palpable (if short-lived) feeling of relief. The realisation that she could let go of all this accumulated stuff. It didn’t matter. None of it. She didn’t need it and she never had. Like most of the stuff we cling to, it was meaningless.

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