Category Archives: Death

Goodbye Tomas

Today, or, rather, yesterday as I’m writing this at silly o’clock on a Monday morning, was a tough day. It was a tough day because I received a message that one of my students, Tomas, had died from cancer. At age 14 years his life ended. After 14 years his parents and sister went home to a home which probably felt more like just a house; a home which would never again hear Tomy’s dry sense of humor or see his shy smile; nor would they ever again experience the delight of living with this brave young man who, for several years, knew that he was almost certainly fighting a war against cancer, a war which, ultimately he expected to lose and, yet, he continued, so far as his treatments would allow, to fully enjoy the life of a teenager.

**********   If you are religious you should probably stop reading at this point.   **********


**********   Really, you should probably not have got to this warning if you are religious   **********

I imagine that you, like I, read Facebook; that you, like I, have “friends” on there who are God-fearing, upright citizens who post religious things. Last week someone posted something along the lines of, “Thank God for all the brightness in your life. Thank God for all the happy memories. Thank God for all the good things in your life”, and so on and so forth. My question is simple, if you thank God for all the good things in life, then who should you thank for taking away the life of a child? Not just Tomy’s life, but the lives of all the other children who died in the last 24 hours, who will die in the next 24 hours and so on until this world ceases to support life? If you really thank God for all the good things; if you really thank God for taking a personal interest in your well-being, then should you not also thank that same God for taking the lives of innocents like Tomy who actually was part of a religious family, should you not also thank that same God for all those who die from floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, volcanoes and other “natural” disasters? Should you not also thank that same God if you are one of the homeless sleeping rough who lost their home and family when some corporate banker made a decision which wiped out a company employing that person? Should you not also thank that same God if you have been raped, abused or violated in any way? If this God takes such a personal interest in you why is that He failed to take a personal interest in all of those other people who have been badly effected by events in the last 24 hours and those who will be in the future? Did they do something wrong? Were they all people like me, people who thought there was no such being as a God who really takes any interest in what goes on in the universe let alone on this small and relatively insignificant world of ours. Were none of those people “good people”? Did none of those people believe in the same God that you do? It’s surely impossible to believe that everyone who has died prematurely or in pain or had their lives adversely affected is a “bad person” who is irreligious isn’t it?

On my way to fetch my car from the bottom of the street I composed a poem for Tomy, not a poem of bitterness, nor a poem of is there a God, but a poem of my pain and disappointment at not seeing Tomy go on to a full and mature life as, in my opinion, he fully deserved to do. I would love to publish that poem here, in my blog, but I can’t, at least not yet, as I am currently on a course which requires that I publish, in the course book, a piece of my own original work: my poem for Tomy will be that piece of work replacing the one on which I had previously worked. Maybe I will be able to publish it here later. I hope so.


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Filed under Cancer, Death

Death and Memories of Life

I think I need to say right at that beginning that I know I am writing this post as a way of trying to find out just how I feel this morning.

A couple of hours I got a call from my daughter in the UK to let me know that my mum had died in hospital during the night: it wasn’t a surprise as Mum fell and broke her hip a couple of weeks ago and needed surgery which is never good when you are 89. A few days ago the hospital let us know that Mum had slipped into a coma and that her organs were about to start failing, so, no big surprise this morning to hear that she had died and I received the news quite quietly, some sadness which I can feel increasing as I write this, but no tears or histrionics from me, no sudden sense of loss or loneliness either. Mum had been afflicted by Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia for the last 10 years, or possibly more as this insidious disease doesn’t really announce it’s arrival but builds up gradually from taking away minor items of mental facility such as forgetting where you left something to taking away pretty much everything so that you forget who you are. Looking back there was some point in those 10 years where Mum “died” for me and perhaps that’s why I feel as I now do. The other thing which is, I think, a big contributing factor to my feelings is that it’s now 12 years since I can pinpoint the first time Mum told me she wanted to die. There are lots of times when I can think of hearing people say they wished they were dead, but, generally, that’s just a statement with no real meaning except to express a severe reaction to something, however, with Mum, it was different: she really meant that she wished she could die. Looking back she was, at that point, aware of her diminishing mental facility (though she made sure to cover it up well!) and was clearly aware that she was starting to live a life which was diminished in quality and which would continue to diminish. I can understand that feeling. Over the succeeding years I heard the “I wish I was dead” and “I wish I could die” many, many times. On several occasions it was followed by a very plaintive look as she followed that phrase with “but I know you can’t do anything for me.” Talk about heart wrenching!!

I have my own beliefs about what happens to Mum’s life force now, although clearly I can’t really know, but Mum had a very clear vision of the Christian God with white hair and a white beard sitting up in Heaven on a throne in a blue sky with fluffy white clouds all around. It was a vision Mum got as a girl growing up in Gawber and attending the local junior school and, of course, Sunday School at the local chapel – Mum was always clear that they were “Chapel and not Church” when they were growing up as it seems, in Mum’s opinion at least, that those who went to the church were “stuck up and thought they were something”! Anyway I really hope that, for Mum, her vision of the afterlife holds good and that she is now re-united with her Mum whom she adored but I never met, her siblings, possibly her dad although she had no really clear memories of him as he died in a pit cave-in when she was quite young. Will she be re-united also with my dad? I don’t know as his experiences with the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment during WWII convinced him that there could be no such thing as God and the thought occurs to me that, maybe, after death what happens might just depend upon what we believe should happen.

Mum leaves behind lots of memories with me, my daughters and my grandchildren which are now making my eyes blurry so perhaps it’s time to stop writing and dry my eyes ;0)


Filed under Alzheimers, Death, Dementia

Hamlet, Androids, Dreams and My Cancer

Yesterday I came across the blog oldermanyoungerman which touched me enormously, so much in fact that my wife asked why I was sniffing so much. Naturally, as a bluff, hale, no-nonsense Yorkshireman, I couldn’t admit to the tears which were about to gently roll down my cheeks, but the words which I’ve quoted below really got me thinking:

“Tomorrow I will lie on a table that will convey me, like an auto body part on a conveyor-belt in a factory, into a tube where I will be photographed and analysed. Not “I” but the body that I am, because the imaging will not record my terrifying thought that the cancer may still be there, nor will it pick up the sinking feeling of someday having to leave behind the man I love, nor the prayers I send up to St. Anthony and St. Michael–though I never pray that way on a normal day.

The pictures, when they are sent to the oncologist, will not show my dreams for the future, my plans for spending my days, for sitting in the sun reading, for playing with the dogs, for holding Mike tight to this too fragile heart.”

I found the images created by the blog to be as powerful as the images which may, by now, have been created by the PET scan. I’ve lain on the PET scan table where I felt more like a piece of luggage going through security at the airport and wondered, just as I’ve done at security, “Will they see something I’m unaware of? Something which appears to be a threat that I don’t know about?” Stupid thoughts at the airport where I’ve knowingly complied with all the restrictions but not on the PET scan table. Unlike the author of oldermanyoungerman I didn’t distinguish the “I” from “the body that I am”. I should have done that: I really should have done that. I accept the teachings of the Buddha and try to live according to the Dharma. In many ways, such as in this instance, I fail to achieve what I would like to achieve but there’s a teaching in there too, I think. Anyway, the reason I should have distinguished my “I” from “the body that I am” is because in Buddhism there is a meditation, which I’ve done many, many time, based on trying to find the “I”. I’ve tried to find something on-line which would explain it clearly but have been unable to do so, so, here goes. In essence the meditation involves considering your body as your I and asking yourself the question “If I lose a finger am I still my body, is my body still me and what is the missing finger? If I lose a second finger am I still my body?” and so on until the body has been thoroughly explored without at any time discovering just which part of your body contains your “I”, thus leading to the conclusion that “I” and “my body” are not the same thing at all. I’ve explained this extremely badly and can only apologise to Steve, and to Gandon “but my mum still calls me Malcolm”, for not being better able to express their valuable teachings, for which I was, and continue to be, very appreciative.

The part of oldermanyoungerman’s blog which perhaps got me thinking most was “The pictures, when they are sent to the oncologist, will not show my dreams for the future, my plans for spending my days, for sitting in the sun reading, for playing with the dogs, for holding Mike tight to this too fragile heart.” This, naturally, got me thinking of my own dreams. Of the future with my wife for which we’ve both waited for seven years while I tried to support my mum as her dementia worsened. (I think I actually heard my wife threaten to kill me before the cancer could if I was going to die and leave her behind after all this time spent waiting, but perhaps I misheard). Of my dreams of spending time with my daughters who have both given me so much support and so much to be proud of down the years and sharing, vicariously, in their future achievements. Of spending time with my grandchildren and delighting in their activities and their achievements. Of seeing my step-children go on to achieve success in their lives. Of discovering more of America – I’d love to do the Dave Gorman unchained trip across the USA – this really is possibly the funniest thing I have ever read (reading it on a trans-atlantic crossing my seat-buddy just had to know what the book was that was literally causing me to laugh out loud). Of walking once more on those fabulous Pennine Hills which have surrounded me for pretty much all my life and in which I’ve spent a fair bit of time walking, mountain biking and kayaking – if that makes me sound like Action Man you should immediately lose the image! I dreamed of sharing these pleasures with my grandkids and watching them take-off on their own. Those are my dreams! I was tempted for a moment to write “those were my dreams”, but I think I was correct the first time: they still are my dreams, however, oldermanyoungerman got me thinking how sad it must be for people who, for whatever reason, do not have dreams. Perhaps they have no dreams because they are so isolated, and this cancer thing can be very isolating even in the middle of a loving and supporting family! Perhaps they have no dreams because they know their life won’t extend that far. It was this last thought which really made me sad, and thoughtful, as I began to wonder what I would feel about losing my dreams if I were to be told, “Sorry, but you only have x months left to live”. That ‘x’ might, or might not, be enough time to go on a world tour and fit in everything I’ve ever wanted to do, but if you aren’t going to be able to remember the dream is it worth living it? In the strange and seemingly random manner in which my mind often seems to work (if work is indeed the correct verb!) my thoughts then jumped to Hamlet with his famous “to be or not to be” soliloquy which includes the words “For in that sleep of death what dreams may come“, and this made me wonder just what dreams we might take with us into, and perhaps even through, death? It also made me think of a book I’ve recently re-read by Philip K Dick, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

I can no more answer Philip K Dick’s question than I can Hamlet asking what dreams may come in death, but I do know that my dreams are important to me, and I know that having them will help me to come through this with the help of the medical profession and my loved ones (though not necessarily in that order) and that I will go on to dream more dreams and live them too.


Filed under Buddhism, Cancer, Death, Dreams, Meditation