If you know me at all…no wait, scratch that…you don’t really have to know me in the slightest to know that I am a MASSIVE (in this case literally and figuratively :D) fan of Terry Pratchett. So of course I follow his Facebook page. And yesterday they advertised an auction for a dinner with the man himself, with all funds raised in this way going to support “Dignity in Dying”. Now, notwithstanding the fact that I would sell all my possessions and organs (as well as anybody’s that I have ever known) to be the one to have dinner with Terry, it also got me thinking. “Dignity in dying” is not exactly one of those causes you can use to win Miss Universe – it’s too depressing. But, knowing that Terry Pratchett was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a few years ago, I can see how this would become a cause worth investing in. Funny how priorities change as life takes its turns with us.
Which got me to thinking about “dignity” and “dying”, and about how these two can (and should/would?) go together. For “dignity” can sound like such a very passive, stiff-upper-lip kind of thing…so “dignity in dying” can sound so much like giving up, giving over, hanging around – in a dignified manner, mind – until your time is done. And yet, one of my favourite poems (anthems?) by Dylan Thomas tells us: “Do not go gentle into that good night, old age should burn and rave at close of day; rage, rage against the dying of the light”. So how do we reconcile these two seemingly very different understandings? Can we? Should we?
For that I think the answer is not in the dying, but in the living of it all. Of course, in those last moments of our lives, we will all wonder about one or two things when looking back upon our journey. The trick, I think, is how much there is to wonder about – in my experiences with death and dying, the most fear and desperation are felt by those who realise that they have waited too long with most everything. Who know, in that final moment, that too much has gone unsaid, undone, unthought. Is that the same as saying that to live to the full – to get to an end with mostly peace – is to rage and burn and rave all our desires to the full? No matter who or what you leave in your wake? Or in what condition? Since it is only you on your own in those dying moments?
And then “dignity” clicked for me – for to live a dignified live is not to live a life without passion and fire, but always living it with the knowledge that you are not the only person being affected by your journey. So, when talking about dignity in death, I think it’s more about the people you leave behind and how they are left. And the balance – that very precarious and flighty thing – is to be found in exactly “dignity in dying”…for then we are living our lives and our passions to the full, realising that we only have so much time in which to do all we desire; but to also do it in such a way that those around us are inspired, are ignited by our passion to find and follow their own, are strengthened by our lives and our journeys. When we manage that, our life, our death, will be something to mostly smile about…something that pushes people onward and upward…something to be proud of.