“Tis impossible to be sure of any thing but Death and Taxes,” – The Cobbler of Preston by Christopher Bullock (1716)
I’ve never been one to shy away from the truth with the children. If they ask a question, I will give them an uncomfortably honest answer, and I will always answer any question they may have – except when Olivia asked what rape was over breakfast one day, I wasn’t ready for that one. I like to think that they respect my frankness and as such, will continue to trust me enough to bring me their problems free from fear of judgement or mockery.
One of the first topics they asked about was death. I remember Olivia being about three and a half years old when she asked what the grave stones in a church cemetery were. I told her that the stones marked the location in which family members had buried loved ones after they had died and she asked what ‘died’ meant. I told her. She cried. I asked why she had cried and she said that she didn’t want me or her mummy to die. I told her that everybody dies, explained how and why, and even at three and a half she understood it. She didn’t like it, she said that it was unfair, but she understood that death was an inevitability. For (hopefully) you and me, we can expect to live for decades longer; I’m 36 and hope – despite current lifestyle – that I’ll live for another 50 years at least.
We recently visited my nan, and in her 90s she has an exceptionally different view of death than you or I. She’s confessed that she believes next Christmas may be her last, and it’s deeply upset my daughter, but how must my nan feel? I’ve never stopped to consider what goes through the mind of someone who is as near to death as my nan and is essentially waiting to die.
I was fortunate enough to have discovered Oren Miller’s blog before he died of lung cancer. His post about discovering heaven on Earth was the first of his posts that I read and immediately became inspired by him. I think it was the beginning of my transition from being a disillusioned struggling father, to a much more engaging and patient dad; it gave me perspective to appreciate the little things, and it also gave me insight into what was in the mind of someone expecting certain death.
“So acceptance, and sadness–well, I believe they can coexist. Sadness is inevitable–I’m only human, and trying too hard to rise above it only hurts more. But I do accept. I accept that life is finite, and I accept that my time will come soon. I accept that my life had been and still is a gift, and I accept the likely possibility that I won’t see my kids grow older.”
But what if the illness that is killing you is just life? It’s not a disease from which the doctor can estimate your demise, so for my nan to truly believe that she has less than a year left to live really exposes my own sense of mortality. It made me question whether I’d truly made the most of my time on Earth, but I’m in the fortunate position of having time to remedy any shortcomings. She doesn’t. She has to accept that the life she has forged is the best it could have been, or what else? She spends what little time she has left ruminating over what could have been? No. She’s much stronger than that, and besides, she leaves a legacy in the lives of all of her children; her children’s children; and her children’s children’s children. That is why I’m so keen for my family to visit her as often as we can; I want her to see that without her, nothing in my life could have been possible and that her legacy is my children’s future.
If Nanny Morry were to die soon, she would be the first relative that has died since me and Olivia had that chat about death in a Canterbury cemetery. The whole family will be distraught, but I think I’m ready to guide and support my children through it. It will be an unpleasantly inevitable benchmark, but there’s nothing certain in life other than death and taxes and I’ve just paid my tax bill.