There is a vast difference between dying, and death.
I guess we are all dying – some of us take longer to do it than others. For the past few weeks we have been watching my father-in-law move to the end stages of his long life, he was ninety two and a half. What an amazing life he lived, although he had just been going through the motions for the last few years since mum died. He missed her terribly every day, so although it was sad, it was also a blessing to think he is now at peace and with the love of his life at last.
Years ago I read Simone de Beauvoir’s book A Very Easy Death, in which she talked about her mother dying. She was affronted when the nurses talked about her death as being very easy. She didn’t see it that way, most likely because she was looking at it through the eyes of a loved one. From a nursing perspective, there are ‘easy’ deaths, and there are difficult ones. They weren’t being unkind when they said it was easy, just stating a fact as they saw it.
Looking back on the last few weeks of Dads life, it probably wasn’t that easy, but looking at it from a nursing point of view – when I put my old nurses cap on – it wasn’t too difficult either. And he seemed to be at peace. When you compare the death of an aged loved one to the sudden unexpected death of a child, they are worlds apart.
Sudden death in young people will always be a tragedy, whereas a person who has lived a long and full life is going to be an expected one. A young death is tragic and a waste of untapped potential. A death such as dad’s is looked on as the end of a long journey, filled with interesting experiences – and as we write his eulogy – many stories to tell. When we come to his funeral we will be looking back on a life well-lived. We will share precious moments as we remember, funny ones too. There will be sadness and probably a few more tears shed because of our loss.
However when I think back to the immediate days after Kelly’s death, we also shared precious and funny moments, but the grief was intense for a life gone too soon. A life that still had so much living to do, and we mourned that with a much deeper level of sadness than we mourn dad.
As a mother I mourned the loss of my baby – even though she was twenty – and for the dreams and hopes I had for my child. As a daughter-in-law I mourn at a much lighter level for a man who pined for his mate, his partner of sixty plus years and the love of his life. We will celebrate that life, even as we celebrate for him as he leaves us to join his love.
It is simple, and something we knew would happen, compared to Kelly’s sudden end, which we are still coming to terms with after sixteen years. We – her immediate family – will most likely still be grieving for her in another sixteen years time, whereas with dad, we will be content because he lived past his life expectancy.
We will still miss him, but he will be remembered with fondness and love, rather than disappointment and grief.