In Memory of My Son on his Sixth Anniversary

Ode to Death

By Vivien Ni Dhuinn

(For my son, Conor McDade 15th March 1996 – 10th December 2007)

        My Son Conor   Holding My Sons Hand  My Son Conor

My son Conor, a true Page of Cups. He was a born psychic and could read auras from a very young age. He had a natural affinity and understanding of The Crystal Kingdom, and was able to see and feel Energy. He was extremely creative and artistic and was such a fun-loving boy. Sociable, kind and friendly he exuded a strong warmth to all who knew him. He loved animals and the natural world. He believed in Faeries and Magic.

Conor was diagnosed with an inoperable Diffuse Pontine Glioma (brainstem tumour) in June of 2007. Conor was resistant to all forms of painkillers including morphine.

Conor died in my arms on the evening of the 10th of December 2007, six years ago today. He is still terribly missed by us all and will never be forgotten.

The following year on his birthday, the 15th of March 2008 I went to see a very reputable Medium. Conor came through loud and clear along with letting me know he had my beloved dog, Lillie with him. Lillie had died a few months before him. He spoke to me of my Tarot writing and Healing and insisted that I go back to working on them. He said that he would work through me and help me. The Medium explained that he was showing her putting his hands on mine to explain how he would do this.

During the course of my work, Conor has come through on several occasions with messages for me, using my clients as a medium of communication. He suddenly pops in and whoever it is I am working on, will tell me quite suddenly that there is a spirit energy in the room saying that he is my son! He tells them that he is here to help with their healing. It can be quite startling for both of us. I know that Conor helps me with my writing and inspires me to keep going.

This is a sort of Poem, I wrote this morning. I had not planned to write in this manner but this is how it came out. The account below may be disturbing to some people as I am quite direct and open about the whole experience. If you feel you may get too upset reading it, then please leave it and move on to something less distressing. It is not for everyone.


Ode to Death

by Vivien Ni Dhuinn

She moved with the grace, serenity and elegance of a Swan,

Our beautiful and gentle Indian Nurse, her speech soft and compassionate.

We worked together, removing wires, tubing and syringe drivers,

He had passed at 6.30, my son Conor, just 11 years of age,

With his systolic at 52 and his oxygen at 25, he had drawn his last breath,

The hiss of his oxygen mask sounded loud and pathetic,

Pointlessly being wasted on the dead, it was switched off and the room sank into a calm stillness

No beeping machines, no shrill sound of alarms dragging us from our petrified fractured sleep, alerting us to dangerously low stats

Just us,

And my son, now free of restrictions and contraptions, lying there as if asleep, motionless

Death had eventually arrived and we had flung open the doors to greet him,

Embracing his long cool, yet comforting darkness, I wondered what had taken him so long,

Death had eventually taken pity on us all, and not before its time,

But my son had gone before his time, a life ahead to live, a childhood still not done, A future waiting to be revealed,

Yet, I had welcomed the appearance of Death, with his penetrating cold stare and chilling understanding,

Death had expert and ancient skills at his disposal,

He had come to do his job, and both nurses and doctors stood back to allow him work, watching once more in awe and reverence. They had watched Death work many times before,

They had learned that Death is not always there to punish or upset, but so many times to comfort, ease and soothe,

It was the disease, the cancer, that was guilty of inflicting pain and horror, not Death,

Death knew what must be done in order for release, a release from suffering and endless pain,

The only guaranteed antidote when drugs don’t work, won’t work, can’t work

During many nights on St John’s, I had fled through hospital corridors, seeking Death,

calling out for him to help me help my son, to end the screaming and the torture,

Oh yes, Death was busy elsewhere, many wards and theatres to visit, my piteous calls lost in the din of Parental tears and wails,

Should I have turned a corner, entered a room, found him,

I would have dragged him with me, begging and pleading my son’s case,

‘Now, please now, please.  He can’t wait. Don’t leave him like this’

But Death was not yet ready for us; he had other places to be

Until that night, December 10th, 2007 when all hope had been lost, and our minds gone beyond the beyond,

He arrived and I recognised his presence immediately. Relieved and frightened, I felt both privileged and honoured to bear witness to his work,

It was where I had to be, the most natural place,

I had been there when my son was brought into the world and breathed life into his lungs; it was only fitting that I should be there at the end, when those very same lungs exhaled their last,

Too soon, too premature, we all cry, but there was no turning back from where we found ourselves in that little hospital room. Cancer had seen to that.


Outside our curtained little room, the ward was busy and noisy. Doctors and nurses passed up and down, parents carrying steroid-starving children towards the kitchen in search of more food to appease their cravings, catering and cleaning staff moving fast, their workload heavy and demanding, chemo-sickened, nauseated teenagers being pushed in wheelchairs like old men and women, their bodies collapsed and exhausted.

It was all going on, on the other side of the door, yet inside was peaceful if not surreal,

Our Indian nurse helped me bathe my son, her long slim arms tenderly lifting his legs and arms as she slowly drew the warm cloth over his cooling skin,

I cleaned his face ever so carefully, not wanting to cause him any more pain or discomfort, soothingly wiped his closed eyes, his beautiful blue eyes that had suddenly gone blind in less than two days from his tumour. The shock of that still nauseating to the pit of my stomach,

We worked through this beautiful ritual, speaking softly to my dead son, blessing him and holding him,

I held his feet and palms against an ink-pad our Indian Nurse produced, and pressed gently,

There, an imprint left behind, the lines and shapes forever recorded, his footprint, his handprint,

We cut a lock of hair from his precious head and stored it safely, his bed was tidied and smoothed down,

She asked if I would like to take a photograph? I declined.

We were then left alone. I tried to let it sink in but couldn’t. However, I let out a deep sigh and thought to myself, ‘thank god it is over, thank god he has been let go’. I held his hand and talked to him. I asked him if he was still in the room or had he already gone? I asked him what it felt like to be well again, to be able to get out of that bed and be free once more?

I listened for answers but none came,

Too soon perhaps, he had other things to attend to,

but I just wanted reassurance that he was okay, that someone had come for him, that he wasn’t on his own or frightened, It was out of my hands now, there was nothing else I could do.


The brave and distraught began to arrive to pay their respects,

Ashen faced and unsure of what to say, they cautiously entered the room, their eyes drawn immediately to the boy they had all known and loved so well,

They knew this time was coming but were unable to prepare themselves for the reality of staring down at a dead child in his bed, this same child being their brother, grandchild, cousin, nephew,  friend, pupil,

He was gone, no more. Only memories and photographs would survive. Frozen in time at 11 and ¾ years of age in December 2007. He would be left behind in that year, in that decade. He could no longer look forward, for it had all stopped with that last breath, with that last heartbeat. This particular life-time for my son was over,

Living the horror every day strengthens you, prepares you, but those on the outside, they struggle, their minds exploding in horrific despair at the mere thoughts of it happening to them or one of theirs,

I too had thought the same before cancer had arrived into our lives. It had sought out the youngest of my children to launch its attack. What was I to have done? Run away and leave him to fight it all on his own?

One does what one has to do and one can do remarkable things, things one never thought possible,

Courage, strength and bravery sat in every room on St John’s Ward that night and every other night, yet none so brave as the parents of similarly suffering children who dared to enter our little room just to show they cared, to offer support and to kiss my son on his forehead or hold his hand,

God, what it must have taken for them to stand and sit there looking at my dead child thinking that it may be their turn tomorrow, or the next day or week,

They shed not a tear but just held me; they spoke no words of comfort, for they of all people knew there was nothing that could be said. I shall never forget them and their solidarity.

Slowly, they fled the room one by one, family and friends, home to a sleepless and tearful night,


Alone once more, the room fell into its deathly silence,

I felt tired and exhausted. I needed some air and some space. Leaving the room I headed down to the front of the hospital, down the long corridor, the statue of Our Lady, her eyes cast down as I turned the bend,

Drawing close to the front door, I could feel the chill of the cold December air and pulled my heavy cardigan tightly around me,

The security guard nodded kindly at me as I passed through the automatic doors and out into the dark still night,

I was drawn to the tall, looming Christmas Tree that stood imposingly at the entrance, twinkling its soft blue lights, a painful reminder of all that I had lost,

I sat for a while, the cold seeping through my bones, wondering about what had just happened, staring at the Christmas tree and thinking of all the children who would be counting down the days until Santa Claus came,

My son had been one of them until now. Beside his deathbed lay his sealed letter to Santa that I had helped him compile. It was full of the usual stuff a nearly 12-year-old boy would want; Xbox, new phone, games etc. His list was as usual, endless. What was to be done with his list?

The cold and tiredness eventually drove me back inside, the same security guard smiling good night as I passed,

Could he not see from my face, from my being, that my son had just died? I passed several others on my journey back to St John’s, they too smiling and passing friendly comments. They didn’t know what I knew. If they did, they wouldn’t have been smiling and laughing at me, or worse still wishing me a Happy Christmas,

With leaden legs, filled with heavy wet sand I let myself back into our little room and took up position by my son’s side once more,

In the time I had been outside, he had already changed. His hand was much cooler now and his appearance had altered slightly.

I suddenly knew that Death was still with us, had not completely finished the process,

Death was unravelling my precious son, bit by bit, every minute passing, taking him further and further away from the physical. There were certain things that still had to be done and all I could do was standby and watch as my son, the boy I knew for so long, began to dissipate and disappear before my eyes.


They came for him in the small hours of the morning. It had been at my request. I had wanted to spare the other parents the torture of watching his gurney being wheeled by their rooms, their children understanding and knowing only too well what was before them,

I too had watched similar scenes pass my window during my time there. Young children, teenagers; alive one day, dead the next,

We all had stood, as if to form a silent guard of honour as the gurneys were wheeled by, parents sobbing and holding each other up, overwhelmed by their circumstances.

Painfully aware of the fragility of our own situations, mine was more definite, terminal from diagnosis, yet I had watched other children with treatable cancers suddenly take a turn for the worse,

All knew that Cancer had its own schedule and cared little for who it took or the suffering it caused.

And so we began our journey to the Morgue, the gurney moving slowly, the porter quiet and reverent, respectful,

Out under the bright lights of the long corridor, I could see my son’s face more clearly now and it frightened me,

Death was doing his job for certain. Gone was the colour from his face, his lips now pale and drained,

I forced myself to look, for this was my son and we had gone through so much together, I would not fail him now. I would walk with him, right to the very end, into that Morgue where I would have to hand him over to others,

Down past St. Roch’s, the long corridor stretched out ahead of us,

Over each metal strip on the floor, the gurney rattled and my son would move slightly, but I could see that his movements where stiff and hard,

Death was here alright and there was no pretending anymore. He no longer looked like he was just asleep. The change had startled me, leaving me unstable and weak,

The Porter stopped to unlock the door that led down another corridor,

The sign above the door, ‘The Mortuary’ hit home and I felt so afraid of what I might see. I had passed this door so many times, my eyes each time trying to avoid the signage, yet now I was here,

They were unlocking the door just for us and there was no turning back.

The chill became intense as we entered the actual mortuary. I instinctively wanted to put extra blankets over my son’s lightly covered vulnerable body, a mother’s protective nature still active, even after death,

We found ourselves in a little chapel-like room with rows of pews and seats. At the top of the room I noticed a baby’s wicker bassinette sitting on a stand and drew back in horror,

A mortuary official appeared just in time and reassured me that it was empty at present but that they were awaiting the arrival of a baby from one of the wards,

I nodded through chattering teeth, unsure whether it was the cold or shock that was causing my body to shiver and shake so much,

My son’s gurney was wheeled and put in place beside the baby’s bassinette and we were told they would leave us to have some time with him. We were assured we could stay as long as we liked,

Sitting next to my son, I stared at his cold, lifeless body, unsure of as to what to do next,

The cold seeped through my bones and my body convulsed in shaking


No tears fell, my body numb and in shock,

I let my eyes wander around the room and thought of all those children who had gone before my son and those that would go after him,

This room stank of death and the horrendous grief of those left behind,

This was Death’s domain and I could feel his long cool stare as he watched us from behind,

Death reached out with his thin bony fingers and touched me in an attempt to comfort,

Chills ran up and down my spine and I turned to face him,

Written on his face were the loneliness of his job and the acceptance of always being misunderstood or blamed,

Death had not killed my son, it was not his fault. It was the cancer. He had only wanted to end his suffering,

Death told me to go home for this room was for the dead and not for the living,

Assuring me that he would look after my son, he knew exactly what needed to be done; he had much experience and practice behind him.

Death stood beside me as I kissed my son’s forehead and bade him goodnight. Walking away slowly I reached the door and turned around,

Death was still staring at me with his knowing ghostly look’

Before I left, I wanted Death to know that I would see him again sometime, and now that I knew him, would not worry so much when he came to visit upon me in the future. Death I do not fear, it is pain and suffering that is worse than any death.

And so, we left Death to carry out his work. It was time for us to go home and back to the living once more. My work was done and I would have to find a way to carry on.

Godspeed my precious son, Godspeed. xxx

Holding My Sons Hand


Copyright © 2006-2013 Vivien Ní Dhuinn

About miss tarot teacher

I am a Blogger, Blog Mentor and writer. I am also an experienced Tarot Consultant and have written an in-depth and comprehensive online course for those who wish to become a Professional Tarot Reader or Consultant. I am skilled in various areas of Digital Technology. I happen to make vintage style boudoir dolls in my spare time and am a trained mezzo soprano. I have a passion for Tudor History.

Posted on December 10, 2013, in Personal Stories. Bookmark the permalink. 21 Comments.

  1. Rayla SunGazer

    Blessings of peace on your dear brave soul.


  2. Wow Vivien you are so strong and so powerful. I can’t believe you shared that. I am speechless by the beauty and love I feel flowing from this post. You are a true warrior. Thank you for sharing such an intimate slice of your life. What a beautiful way to honor your son. You made the final walk graceful, romantic even. Thank you love.


    • Thank you Samiyah from one warrior to another. I have been very open and honest about my experiences with cancer and the death of my son from the very start. I have also given talks to his classmates and their parents at the request of his school. I started writing about my son’s journey through cancer in the year following his death but suddenly stopped. Tuesday prompted me to start again and now I will continue his story where I left off some years back. The hospital where he was cared for and died in, asked my permission to use some of my descriptive passages for student training purposes. Its a hard story to write and even harder to read, but the oncology department believed it would be of great benefit for oncology students and interns to understand how parents feel apart from the important and essential role they play in providing medical treatment and care.

      I have been back to the ward and the room he died in on many occasions since. I have also worked for three months on a voluntary basis in the cardiac unit next door to oncology doing medical admin and transcription for the consultants. I like going back to the hospital and feel Conor is an integral part of the fabric of the building. His energy, along with the energy of all those beautiful children and teenagers who died there, have left an imprint within the space. I met a parent, a mother, at a bereavement meeting and she told me that she goes back to the hospital once a week to have a cup of coffee in the canteen. She walks as far as the ward but cannot go through the doors. She told me, it was the last place her son was alive and felt that going back every week kept her connected to him. She believed that somewhere in the atmosphere of the hospital his essence still lingered, and so she felt close to him when she was there. Apparently very few ever go back or wish to talk about their experiences.

      I cannot speak highly enough of the oncology team and my son’s Clinical Nurse Specialists who became like family to me during those awful times. When visitors fled or became too upset, they were the ones who stayed with me regardless of how bad things got. They do a fantastic job.

      Hope you are well and getting lots of great roles. Thanks again for your supportive and thoughtful comments.



  3. יהי זכרו ברוך
    My his memory be blessed


  4. I am sending you a hug and lots of love on this day. Thank you for being so open and for sharing.


  5. Dear Ma’am,
    No words in this world can describe the pathos of loosing one’s child with such poignant emotions as you have done. I am truely speechless and pray with my heart that Conor always stays the most special soul of the divine. Truely admire your courage in sharing such close feelings with us. Stay blessed always and be our guiding light.
    Many regards to you.



    • Thank you Renuka for your very kind and comforting words. Most people avoid talking about death, but it is part of life and I hope no one thought me insensitive discussing such private matters.

      Thank you for your blessings and may I return them all to you as well.



  6. Dear Viven,

    No words in this world can describe the pathos of loosing one’s child with such poignant emotions as you have done. I am truely speechless and pray with my heart that Conor always stays the most special soul of the divine. Truely admire your courage in sharing such close feelings with us. Stay blessed always and be our guiding light. Many regards to you.

    Renuka. India


    • Thank you so much Renuka. It was something I had to do. I started writing about my son’s journey through cancer a few years back but it came to a halt and I haven’t gone back to it until now. I think maybe I will start again.

      Blessings to you too.



  7. My son’s best friend died a little over 5 years ago. I was never made privy to the exact circumstances, but putting it all together, it was probably a tragic mixing of medication. My son was one of the first people there, before the ambulance even showed up. He has told me of the scene he came upon. This child (and I say child because I would always see him as such. I knew him since he was one) was just short of his 21st birthday. I had seen my own twin boys go off to Iraq and Afghanistan, denying the danger, convinced that if God never showed me another kindness, he would at least guard my sons. What folly to believe something like that, and know that I have seen death come too soon, and unexpected to those I loved, and those I have never known. But still, it helped me get by. At the funeral of this boy I stood at the casket for quite a while. I watched as his mother stroked his hair, and I really wanted so much to touch him too. I had talked to him only days before in my kitchen. I was so proud my son had such a wonderful friend. He felt a part of the family, as did his twin brother. When the time came to close the casket, his brother could not let go of him. And that is when I felt the full impact of all of it. I only see his brother occasionally, but he is a mirror of his brother. I can only imagine how this feels to his family, and him. like a part of your identity…missing. So yes, death does not simply come, there is something that brings us to him. Your courage is something I can feel, but never want to, if that is understandable. Of course, he was taken far too soon. I would think the worst for you is missing him every day. I pray that angels are always there for you. You will see your son again one day. Bless you and yours.


    • Sherry,

      I have read and re-read your message above several times and all I can say is that it is very beautiful and extremely powerful. You have written this account of the death of your son’s friend with such deep insight that I can visualise the whole scene. When death comes to the old we view it in quite a different manner, but when we find ourselves standing at the side of a coffin of young person we find it horrific and impossible to make sense of it all. There they are with beautiful firm skin and thick hair, not old enough to have lines or sagging jawlines, no age-spots. They may not even have grown to their full height or full shoe size yet. Everything has suddenly stopped for them, right in the middle of their growth and development. We want to grab hold of them and shake them awake, our heads screaming inside ‘no, no, this is all wrong’. The old, as sad as it is to say goodbye to them, have lived their lives, possibly married, had children, jobs, careers, travelled and hopefully realised their potential. When we reach a certain age, there is no turning back for us and we must accept that the end may not be far away, we have lived our life and should be grateful that we survived it. However, what know we of the potential our young that die? What might they have done, who might they have become? Would they have met someone nice, would they have had children of their own, our grandchildren. We are just left with our imagination to conjure up what their life may have been like while we watch their friends live theirs. His friends all live close to me and I see them most days. I sometime try to visualise Conor in the middle of them all and wonder would he be taller or shorter than them. I see them with their girlfriends and on facebook and try to imagine him having a girlfriend, and me helping him choose a Christmas or birthday present for her. Would we have been close or would he be one of those teenagers, embarrassed by his mother?

      I remember my son saying to me one day, that he thought he was dying. I never really gave him the full facts as I wanted to protect him. I also hoped for a miracle. He knew of cancer and understood that it was bad and that many died from it. We were driving in the car one day, on the way to his radiotherapy and he asked me what I thought it was like to die? I was quite taken aback but tried to sound relaxed about it all. I told him that I had heard it was a beautiful experience, very peaceful and happy with lots of floating and colours. He seemed quite pleased with that and told me he was worried that everything would just go black. He then said that he didn’t want to die because he had plans of getting a car when he was sixteen. I told him he would get his car but not before I was happy that he had enough driving lessons as I wanted him safe on the road. He settled back down in his seat and said no more about it.

      For your son’s friend’s twin brother, it must be very hard for him. I am sure he is aware of how similar he is to his deceased brother. I am sure he is constantly told this by family and well meaning friends and relatives. I am not so sure if it is a comfort to him or a curse. His very resemblance is a constant painful reminder to both his family and to him. He must feel he is walking in his dead brother’s shoes and will have to do so for the rest of his life.

      You have twin sons too and this must have hit home hard, especially as you say you had to wave them goodbye as they left for Afghanistan. I am not sure how you slept while they were away but I could imagine, it must have been tough. It is a harsh world we live in today and a difficult time of the year for many families. Today I wrote a Christmas Card for my son to put on the shelf beside his urn. I cried bitter, sad and confused tears for some time after. I also have someone very close to me who is about to lose a sibling very shortly to cancer and it is hard to smile and be happy. I miss my son every day but Christmas time was always very special to him. I wrote in his card that it no longer exists any more for me and that one day I hope he will be able to tell me why he went away so soon before we had a proper chance to do all the things we wanted to do. So many questions but I will have to wait for the answers.

      Thank you for your lovely message above. You are a lovely writer and trust you do so regularly.

      Blessings and Peace to you at this time of the year.



  8. thank you for your honest and open account about your son’s journey, may he be home among the stars and bring you many more blessings in your life. much aroha, Irene NZ


    • Hi Irene,

      Thank you for your lovely supportive comments. Yes, the death of a child is something very few people talk of as it is too painful to recall. In fact very few of us can talk of death at all but will come to us all at some stage. Writing about it, helps me release some of the trapped emotions I have surrounding that time and for that I am grateful. I have just written a Christmas Card to my son to put on the shelf beside his ashes. This has resulted in me crying for the last half an hour. However, tears are cleansing and do help release some of the pain.

      I wish you peace at this time of the year.




  9. Dear Vivien

    Your Ode to Death is…. just…. beautiful. I have been trying to think of the perfect word that emcompasses all that this lovely piece of writing represents, but i have failed.

    Being with a loved one on their journey to Death is a great privilege, one that I have travelled myself as a chaperone, until the time where I could go no further with my dad.

    In these times, when people fear and avoid the topic of Death, I felt it truly was just the two of us on his journey, as family and friends tried their best to avoid the subject, talk about Christmas (there was NO hope of him making September, let alone Christmas)…. everyone carrying on wearing a cloak of fear and a mask of denial. I saw then, that Death must be a lonely lonely road with no one to walk it with.

    So I walked it with him, we planned his funeral, discussed all sorts of topics, practical matters and such. We had some laughs and some tears, but most importantly, we shared his journey together. I walked with him on his path until I could accompany him no further.

    He asked me what I thought was beyond this life, and I answered “Another”.

    An avid Trekkie his whole life, when his time had come but was being postponed by drips and fluids, he said it was time to say “Beam me up Scottie” but the drips were holding him back. So without reservation, I removed the tubes keeping him from dying, and he passed away.

    6000 miles from my home, unsupported by most, the synchronicities and opportunities that came my way were overwhelming… My Dad was clearing the way for me to organise his Humanist Funeral with no obstruction.

    People remarked on how strong I was, how well I had “held it together” but I was filled with joy and peace at how I had been able to walk his path with him, at his pace, until I could walk no further alongside him, and then I let him be on his way, with nothing but encouragement and compassion and patience. It was, and will always remain, one of the most remarkable journeys of my life.

    Bright and Dark Blessings to you


    • Hi Sue,

      So sorry with the late response to your beautiful story. Yes, death is an odd thing and in this era of medical advances and discoveries, we expect to live forever. Death is kept at bay with as many artificial methods as possible. We are told we are living longer and have a growing ageing population, but how well are this ageing population living? What is their quality of life? What is the quality of life for their family who support or care for them.

      I have a friend whose mother is in her late nineties. She is barely functioning, cannot get out of bed most days, has to have carers call twice a day to clean and change her. There has to be a constant family presence with some members, who are not that young themselves, having to give up their life in order to be there for their extremely elderly parent. The mother in question experiences chronic pain and other discomforts due to the aged and worn out state of her organs and skeleton. However, the medical world are determined to keep her alive as long as possible. They do this through various methods of intervention and medication. She is forced through physio even though she has no chance of ever regaining her muscle or bone strength. She is tired and worn out but keeps waking every morning. She has diabetes which her medical team keep her on a strict diet to control (what difference does diet make at her age?), and also high blood pressure which too is controlled with drugs. She is constantly attending hospitals for appointments and scans. I have to wait months to get an appointment for myself, but this woman gets appointment after appointment, whether she wants them or not, with absolutely no delay at all. She doesn’t even know what she is being tested or treated for. The awful thing is, there is no way back from where this woman is right now. There is no cure for her state of extreme old age, no matter what way you look at it. My friend is fed up with people approaching her and making silly statements such as ‘isn’t your mother great, a grand old age’, or ‘there’s still a few good years left in her’. No it’s not great my friend thinks, it is an ongoing stress filled nightmare for all involved. There is nothing noble or grand about her state of suffering and misery.

      My friend who is in her mid sixties has had absolutely no life for the last 20 years. That is how long she has been looking after her mother and also trying to hold down a full time job. Her mother refuses to go into a home and so her wishes must be granted. Her mother had a heart attack in her early eighties but a medical team worked hard to save her and have monitored her heart since then. She has had problems since which have caused her terrible discomfort.

      You write of showing your father encouragement and compassion on his journey towards death. Why do so many fight against it and deny it when it is obvious it is coming. Avoiding the subject and speaking of the future, when there will not be one in this lifetime, quite rightly makes the journey of death a very lonely path to tread. You did the right thing by bringing it out in the open, by discussing it with your father and also consulting him with regards to his own funeral. I am not sure what age your father was when he passed, but for very elderly people, why do those around them, and possibly the person in question, refuse to look death in the face and acknowledge its presence. Why do they hide around corners and duck under beds if they get a mere sniff of its approach. The subject is never broached. Who are they all trying to fool?

      The Victorians were great at death and funerals. It was the era of Gothic tales such as Dracula and Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. They went all out for death and funerals which were similar to a wedding in some regards. A popular trend was in photographing the dead, not on their death bed, but carefully posed to show them off in their best light. They would be dressed in their best clothes and positioned sitting or lying on a chair surrounded by all their bits and pieces. They looked as if they had just sat down for a rest. Babies were photographed in the same manner. Copies of these photos would be sent to family and friends and stored in a photo album of the dead, or in picture frames on the wall. The first ready-to-wear shops sprung up during this era as there was strict dress code attached to funerals and mourning attire. These rules were enforced from the moment of death which left family members in a dilemma if a death was sudden. One was supposed to be seen immediately in the correct mourning clothes, with changing color requirements every six months after death. Shops were opened which stocked a selection of mourning attire and did thriving business during this time. Of course the lower classes, with little or no money, had to make do with whatever they had at hand. It certainly was a big industry and many of our modern day funeral rituals come from the Victorian era. The strange thing is, that Queen Victoria herself, who had set the strict guidelines of black mourning attire after the death of her beloved husband Albert, broke with tradition for her own funeral by having her coffin draped in white cloth and drawn by a team of white horses. Maybe it was an attempt to break the cycle of depressing black that was enforced for mourners during her reign, or my belief is that for her, death was a rebirth and the long awaited re-union with her much loved husband Albert who had died 40 years earlier. I think she wanted to reflect celebration instead of mourning after her death. She had given much time over the years planning her own funeral and everyone was aware of her wishes.

      When I was going in for major surgery last year, I confronted the possibility that I might not survive the general anesthetic, or that I might have a stroke afterwards. God knows I had to sign enough forms confirming that I was aware of the risks involved before any surgeon would touch me. I have anti-phospholipid syndrome which means my blood, left to its own devices, wants to clot. This means heart attacks, strokes, deep vein thrombosis etc. It will more than likely be one of these that finishes me off in the end. In the weeks prior to surgery I discussed with my partner what should be done if I didn’t come out the other side. He understood for he knows how comfortable I am talking about death. Other members of my family were horrified that I should even consider it might be my end. Why not, people die all the time, and many when they are too young to die. Why should I be excluded from the risks involved. I was told I was morbid and negative, but I was simply being realistic.

      You wrote that it was one of the most remarkable journeys of your life and I cannot agree more with you. It is both an honor and privilege to walk the path towards death with someone you love and cherish. It is the most intense time you will ever experience in life. Filled with terrible lows and heart-gripping fear or upset, there are also wonderful highs, times when both you and the dying person are illuminated and bathed in the light of the dazzling present. Shared moments that will be treasured forever, long after the painful memories have faded.

      When news of my son’s terminal illness broke, there were some who ran away from me, but there were many who ran towards me. Some stayed through the horrific days. We all behave differently in these circumstances and sometimes we do not realise how we are going to react until it is actually upon us. I know my own experience has made me more tolerant of death and unafraid of my own. It is not death I fear, but suffering and pain. I certainly do not want to be kept away from my rightful death when the time comes. If I have reached a stage where my health is failing and my quality of life has dreadfully diminished, I would be horrified to think that teams of medical doctors would try to prolong my life indefinitely.

      I don’t know if you have ever read the book, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. The first part of the book is all about how to live well and the second part is about how to die well. I read it during my son’s journey and found it very enlightening. I still have it on the bookshelf and intend to revisit it.




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