On the coattails of the public debate that I proposed a few weeks ago—and which has imploded with the same energy as it exploded—I want to revisit the topic of death, though not from the dire perspective of forced but frowned upon intervention.
As I near thirty, my mind is already in firm agreement: I am going to get old and die! That is a fact, and there is no point insisting on or pleading for special provisions. I, like the billions of Homo Sapiens before me, will die, and that will be it. If I am lucky, there is an after party where I can continue to get drunk, revel, and argue, but reflecting on my still pinging hangover caused by last night unrestraint, I think I’d rather give all that a pass.
I realise it may be uncharacteristic for someone my age to be so preoccupied and satisfied with the inevitability of their own death, but an eye-opening experience led me to this realization: Before my self-imposed eviction from South Africa (a courtesy I took before it was forced upon me by the ANC) I watched my grandmother wither away and die in a fashion I hope never to imitate.
Like the recently discharged Mandela, in the final months leading up to hear passing, my grandmother was in and out of hospital—the prognosis from the experts becoming ever more dire with each readmission.
My last memory of the personality I strongly identified as my grandmother was in her kitchen, just a few months before her passing. I seem to have been the only one who took the time to speak to her, for she was starving for conversation, so much so that she was unaffected by my inelegance in the Afrikaans language.
In that conversation, she told me that she was tired and ready to go. She said that she wished to pass swiftly while she still had the vitality to wipe her own back end. It was a sober conversation for me, and one really drove the concept of death home for me.
In her lifetime, she had raised four children, outlived one, and seen the birth of many grandchildren and one great grandchild. She was not rich or particularly elegant, but she was proud … proud enough to dispense with a few extra months of life to save herself the indignity of being washed by her children, accompanied to the toiled by a maid, and spoken of as if she were already dead by the latest flock of experts to convene around her hospital bed.
Sadly, for her, the angel of death was tardy in his duties. She lost control of basic bodily functions, slept with an oxygen feed to her lungs, was in chronic pain, and endured alarming trips to the clinic or hospital at unreasonable hours of the night when her oxygen feed alarm sounded (indicating that she had stopped breathing).
It was during these final agonizing months that her personality vacated her presence. Alongside this snuffing of her identity, she endured family members who spoke in her presence as if she were not present. Such dismissive treatment by those closes to her, perhaps, made her feel unwanted in the land of the living.
Looking back at those final weeks before god’s mercy finally resumed its rounds, the frequency and severity with which she ‘fell’ just as soon as her caretakers were out of view makes me wonder if those incidents were not deliberate attempts on her part to end it while she could still move her center of mass and induce an acceleration towards a hard and sturdy object.
My grandmother finally died marginally richer than she was born: she, at least, had on some clothes that belonged to her, something birth is not so prudent in providing new arrivals.
Hospitals—though wondrously clean and sophisticated places of compounded knowledge and discovery for the young and fit who occasionally are in need of services rendered there—are to the old and dying an earthly version of hell. It is only when you visit a hospital while someone you know is on their deathbed that you appreciate just how cold, how insensitive, and how depressing hospitals really are.
If my expiry date arrives, I hope it finds me in an environment I extracted much joy out of throughout my life.
Having shared all of that, I trust I won’t induce a sense of confusion or annoyance in the mind of the reader when I say with certainty that what I long for more than a happy and successful life, is a swift and dignified death. And in a fraternal way, I wish every person the same.
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