“Are you OK now?”
The question had wrong-footed me. OK? Why wouldn’t I be OK? A clarification of the question was obviously considered necessary. “You had problems a couple of years ago.”
“Ah, yes. Yes, I’m OK now. It was only angina. I resigned from every committee I was on, cut back on the driving. The cardiologist says I’m not going to die from angina.”
“Do you still get pain?”
“Only at odd times, it passes. I have to see the cardiologist again in October. That will be nine months since the last appointment. He can’t be too worried.”
What’s a cardiologist, anyway? Someone who looks at print outs and tells you off if you haven’t been behaving. And what’s so bad about dying?
My last conversation with my grandfather was in September 1990. He stood at the back door of his farmhouse as we left in the late afternoon, bidding him farewell as it would be the following year before we would be in England again. “I have had good life,” he said, “and whenever it ends, I’m ready to go.”
It seemed an odd comment. He was seventy-six, he wouldn’t be seventy-seven until December that year. He was in good health. While he had retired from the work, he still enjoyed following the daily life of the farm. He was content in his armchair and in his garden. For me, it seemed that there was no need to talk about life ending.
He died the following March.
Perhaps there comes a point when death becomes something that can be contemplated with complete equanimity, with an indifference that can allow one to shrug and be untroubled.
My friend Elizabeth has been dead some fifteen years, a wonderful woman who lived every one of her eighty-nine years. Elizabeth stood down from membership of a committee when she was eighty-eight because the three year term would have meant being a member after her ninetieth birthday and she felt this was not “a good thing.”
A few years before her sudden death, Elizabeth had been working on the bookstall at a church synod. Reaching down under the table to sort through boxes of books, she had overheard a conversation. A man had said he would need to ask her about a particular book when his companion commented, “Elizabeth? Hasn’t she been dead for years?” Raising her head from beneath the table, Elizabeth smiled and said, “Indeed, she hasn’t.”
Elizabeth took great delight in telling the story, death had no fears for her.
It seems odd, when death is remote prospect, we become anxious. When its approach is increasingly imminent, we become untroubled.