I THINK I have got it right when I say the legendary American sports writer Bud Collins was the one who said, "Dying is no great feat, the least of us can do that. Living's the trick".
What brought this back to mind was a recent report from a dear New Zealand friend of ours who had just lost her father in what one could best describe as a good death.
Her father and his wife had been to visit their local doctor and were each given a clean bill of health.
No doubt they would have felt pretty chuffed with themselves.
Later that day, watching the evening news, glass of wine by his elbow, he turned to his wife and said he was feeling strange. And that was his final moment. He passed on after 86 years of a good life. I think along the way he had discovered “the trick”.
When one is fortunate enough to make it into the 80s (believe me, I speak here from a position of authority) and can get there without any major problems in both health and heart then there is a lot to agree with in Mr Collin's remark.
I must say I never gave a great deal of thought to how the final curtain would fall back in my 70s (ah, the arrogance of youth!) but lately I have found myself thinking about that moment when the time given runs out. Not in a foreboding sense, it's more one of curiosity.
And of course you have to get organised. One needs to make sure the rubbish is out, the back yard tidied up and all the good wines you stashed under the house have been drunk.
I do not expect to be able to look back and ponder over the way the end panned out; never have embraced that bit about life ever after. All I can say to this point is “So far so good". And I sometimes catch myself asking, “Is the best yet to come?” If the friendships I have made in my few years living in South Gippsland are any indication then I have every right to maintain an optimistic perspective for the future.
The late Milton Sibley, a good Wonthaggi friend, wrote in his memoirs how lucky he had been throughout his life in that he had never had to go to war, being either too young or too old.
Whenever the madness of war crossed my life's path I, too, had Milton's generational good timing. I've sat on sea walls and bar stools with those who went and fought and have listened to their stories, trying in vain to comprehend the horrors they carry. That could have been me, except that fate dealt me a kinder hand.
Nonetheless I am not in total agreement with Bud's statement. We do not have control of our dying to the same extent that we may manage the way we live, unless of course we choose to leap from the 10th-floor window. We have to have luck on our side to get the dying bit right.
Don't give me that nonsense that a good death will come to those who have lived the good life. History does not support that argument. Ask Joan of Arc or Sir Thomas More.
Dr Paul Quinnett, a psychiatrist, author and above all fisherman, gives a perfect example of the good death in his book Pavlov's Trout.
Quinnett asks "What is man's purpose?", "What is his place in the cosmos?", "What happens after death?" and then, when the fisherman in him takes over, "Why do the big ones always get away?"
He is trout stream fishing with his son and in conversation the concept of A GOOD DEATH comes up. "Okay," says his son, “tell me about your friend's father. How did he die?"
"The old fellow was a logger who cut wood for a living,” his father says, “but really lived to fish.”
When his wife died he sold the family home and bought a cabin on the river somewhere along the Washington coast. He let the lawn go and blackberries soon over-ran the place. Living from his garden, he shot a grouse now and then, but mainly he lived to catch one more big trout.
He was fishing with a friend. It was raining and he hooked a huge steelhead (trout). He fought it a long time before wading out to get the fish between him and the shore. In the fight, his bright yellow rainhat fell into the river and started towards the sea. With his rod arched high and the great silver fish flashing in the shallows, he waved to his friend and collapsed. "His last words were, 'Get the net’."
August 24, 2013
Loved Bob Middleton’s article on dying, especially that last bit about the trout. That’s how I’d like to go, slumped over a guitar recording, the mic would record my dying fall … oh how ghoulish!
Andrew Shaw, Brisbane