And You…It’ll Happen To You…
I read with some sadness this morning that Paul the ‘psychic’ Octopus has died. I had a quick joke about it over on Twitter and got a few responses back – many along the same lines of ‘do you think he predicted his own demise?’
And this got me thinking. You don’t need to be psychic to do that. We already know it. One thing is certain – far more certain than taxes – we are all going to die.
Yep. It’s a plain fact and one that was brought home to me sharply – and in the same blunt and clear terms – when, a few years ago, I attended a ‘Listening Skills’ course at the Armed Forces Chaplaincy Centre Amport House. I was in a job where I was acting as a Mentor to young trainees who had just arrived at RAF Cosford, and as such needed to have the skills to correctly help them if they had any problems. And the biggest skill to have was to be approachable and to be able to actively listen to other people. It IS a real skill being able to do that, because you have to learn many things – not least the skill to put your own thoughts on hold and actively listen to the words AND the way the person is speaking is saying them.
And during this course, which was run by the Chaplains in the Armed Forces, (but not in a God way – it was all very secular, these were just the subject matter experts at these particular skills in the Forces) were different sessions about different issues and problems that we might come across. Marital/relationship breakdowns, use of alcohol, drugs, depression, and of course death. Each session gave us an insight to how people cope with such things going on, and the problems that they can bring…but the session on Bereavement and Loss was one that even a good 10 years after I attended I can remember clearly.
The Chaplain who led this session was a Catholic Padre from the Royal Navy, who had us all, about 20 or so, in a semi-circle seated around him. He stood up and looked around. He nodded, almost sagely, as if he knew something that we didn’t.
But then he pointed at the person directly in front of him. “You’re going to die.” he said. He turned to his right and said “You’re going to die.” Over to the left “You’re going to die.” At me…”And you…it’ll happen to you…You’re going to die.”
He went on to do this to everyone in the room. And then he said quite plainly, “I don’t know when, and I hope it’s a long, long time away, but there is one certain thing. Everyone in this room, including me, is going to die. And we will leave someone behind. Someone who will have to cope with that fact. And that is what this session is about…”
And so the session went on. He described the stages of grief and how people cope with the death of someone close to them. He told us about the ‘Kinforming’ process; the way the services go about telling the Next-Of-Kin that their loved one has died, and he told us some stories about Kimforming cases he had been involved with.
And here’s the point I am trying to make. It wasn’t morbid. It wasn’t sad. It wasn’t depressing. It was actually quite uplifting, and in a way comforting to know that there is a system in the military to help our loved ones cope with our deaths, God forbid that should happen.
And there was one other thing that struck me. He said of his hatred (he used that word) – hatred of saying using the term ‘loss’ when describing someone who has died. He said that it may seem brutal, but when Kinforming they have to use the word ‘dead’. Not ‘lost’. Not ‘passed on’. That individual has ‘died’. The other euphemisms we use for dying are to vague and can mean other things. Lost? Well they could be found again. No, dead has a finality to it whilst it is painful, it is helpful in the long run, and that if we were to be in the situation of dealing with someone going through a bereavement we should only use two terms. Bereavement and death. Harsh, but brutal.
But death IS brutal. It is harsh. But it will come to us all. And, to someone left behind, it will leave a painful and deep hole. But eventually they will cope with it and they will move on, until they themselves die, as we all will. And, deep down, we all know we will die, even if we don’t think about it. Personally, I am cool with it. I have thought about it a lot (for obvious reasons recently!), and thought about the impact I have had on this world – and all the things I’ve done and all the people I have impacted upon. Some in a good way, some in a less so – hey I’m no saint. But I know it could happen. It could happen in Afghanistan in 6 months time…or it could happen this afternoon when I go to fetch my daughter from the childminders in the car. Either way, I think the people who I love and who love me know I did my best in life, and I am happy to know that if my death comes about whilst I am in the service then the service will be there to help and care for them and to guide them through the bereavement.
We don’t need to be psychic to know it’s going to happen, like Paul. Bless him. But it’d certainly be nice to know when…hmmmm, but would it? Would you want to know the moment of your own death? I certainly wouldn’t. I don’t. Life is too much fun and I enjoy it too much. It brings wonderful things to see and do and play and live. I want to carry on and yet to make sure that then I am gone, people can look around and say…He contributed to that. He made a difference. He made someone’s life a bit better.
So, enough of this talk of death, I am going to put that particular thought back on the shelf and get on with living and do just that…make someone’s life better…