Matters of life and death

‘I think that at a time like this you can stop calling me Miss Flitworth,’ said Miss Flitworth.
She looked startled. ‘How did you know my name? Oh. You’ve probably seen it written down, right?’
‘On one of them hourglasses?’
‘With all them sands of time pouring through?’
‘Everyone’s got one?’
‘So you know how long I’ve -‘
‘It must be very odd, knowing… the kind of things you know…’
‘That’s not fair, you know. If we knew when we were going to die, people would live better lives.’

“Reaper Man”, Terry Pratchett


As a little explanation to those who are not familiar with the Discworld series – the person speaking in capital letters is Death, one of my favourite characters in Pratchett’s creation. “Reaper Man” tells the story of what happens when the Auditors of the Universe decide that it is not right for Death to have developed a personality and therefore he must retire so that a new, impersonal Death could arise. As a departing present Death is given some time, so he could finally experience life first-hand. It is a truly fascinating tale about how Death tries to come to terms with the process of living, during which he learns a great deal about being human and especially what compassion means.

It seems that I am going to have to attend a funeral in the near future, as my grandmother had another stroke yesterday morning. Her mind has been wandering for some time now, she cannot remember things and is paranoid that people are always stealing from her (in reality she hides her things in fear of theft and cannot find them later). She is very old, next Friday is her 88th birthday. I spent half of Saturday at her place, holding the bucket while she was violently sick in it and doing other not so pleasant things for her because she could hardly sit up in bed. While I was there, I asked her several times whether she would like me to call the paramedics again and she kept saying ‘no, don’t call them’. In the end the ambulance was called for the second time anyway and she was finally taken to the hospital.

It is a pretty damn hard choice to make. On the one hand it seems like calling the ambulance is the only logical thing to do, on the other hand… had I been in her place, I would have said ‘no’, too, and hoped that maybe this is the end, finally.

It was heart-wrenching to look at her. She’s become so scrawny, pallid loose skin is hanging off her now-deformed skeleton like donated garments on a wire coathanger in a thrift store. She used to be a strong, independent woman who never took cheek from anyone and always stood up for herself. Yesterday she was nothing but a small shivering heap under her blanket and could not even hold a cup of water in her shaking hands.

My other grandmother died when she was 94, the last years of her life were horribly dull. She was paralyzed and her mind was completely gone. When she talked, she didn’t make much sense but she kept asking one question over and over: “Why hasn’t death come for me already?”

I hope I never make it to that point where I am nearly blind, deaf and unable to move about. I also hope that by the time I get old, we have a law permitting assisted suicide.

If you have not seen the movie where Sir Terry Pratchett talks about assisted suicide, now is a good time.



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