Its been just over a week since my father passed away after a protracted illness. Now that the business of laying him to rest, and the memorial service has been concluded, I finally have a chance to pen some thoughts about the experience, which I admit does not make for particularly pleasant reading.
During my years at school, I read a wonderful quip by someone, which goes something like “Death is a dreary, dull affair, and my advice to you is to have nothing whatsoever to do with it.” Brilliant, isn’t it? Until it comes calling at your door, off course! And now it was my turn to deal with it.
My father had been quite ill for many years. In the last year or so, his dialysis sessions were increased to three times a week, but his condition steadily declined. His death was not unexpected; however it was delayed by his tenacious will to live, quite evidently through a lot of pain. The painful expression that was almost permanently etched on his face, still dog my mind. Amazingly however, he insisted on functioning normally and doing the things that were of quintessence right to the end.
This situation posed a few questions which I tried to analyze for a time, even just prior to his death, but I could come to no real conclusions. The natural evolutionary tendency for humans is to try to survive, even if the body is in revolt. But is it desirable for a person to endure pain and suffering , especially when afflicted with a terminal illness, as in the case of my father? And while its natural for family and friends to hope for someone who is ill, to hang on for as long as possible, is it not somewhat selfish in the case of terminal illness. Is it not possible that our wish for longevity, could place pressure on terminally ill people to force themselves to live a little longer, usually under tremendous pain? And off course, watching someone waste away in pain, is extremely distressing for family and friends; not to mention the burden that care-giving places on them. A vicious cycle indeed!
I received news of him being admitted to hospital about a week before his actual passing on. With the above thoughts playing out in my mind, I delayed traveling down to Durban from Johannesburg, secretly, irrationally hoping that he would pull out of this latest setback, like he had done so many times before. On the advice from my brother that the prognosis did not look very good this time, I finally decided to make the 600 kilometer trip. Again, with irrational hope, I packed just a few jeans and t-shirts, thinking that somehow he would surprise us once again, and I would be happily back on my way to Johannesburg in a few days.
I didn’t get to see him alive one last time. He passed away while I was in transit…
I remember arriving in Durban to the smell of fireworks, and receiving the news from my tearful mother. Strangely I felt no immediate grief. I was actually relieved. Is that wrong? Does being relieved when death ends pain and suffering, constitute immoral behaviour? I should certainly think not. Yes, I’m sad, but I’m happy too, for the end of my father’s pain, and just as importantly, the end of the anguish endured by his family.
The funeral did pose a moral dilemma for me, being the eldest child. I agonized for a little while over participating in the elaborate Hindu funeral rituals, but realized that supporting the family in a time of bereavement was more important than my secular principles. Although I did not participate fully in all the prayer rituals, I did ensure that I gave them my full support and was present throughout. And, the arrival of my father’s only surviving brother from Canada, did relieve some of pressure off me. At times my rational self did get the better of me when I questioned the logic of some of the religious practices, but I relented soon enough.
I volunteered to pay tribute to my father at a memorial service held yesterday, and I managed to write down a few thoughts, but quickly had to scupper that when my sister, suspecting that I would use the opportunity to speak about my religious and political beliefs, asked me politely to refrain from turning the eulogy into a lecture. I had to resort to winging it, and I suppose I did a fairly decent job, since no one in the largely conservative, religious audience, had a heart attack.
For me, life goes on. I just hope that the rest of the family can put this tragic episode behind them fairly quickly and live their lives normally again.