I wish someone had told me about the privilege of death

“I wish someone had told me” is a series of posts that feed into our inquisitive nature at CN&CO. Each week we hear from someone in our network about something interesting or surprising that’s recently happened or occurred to them – or lessons they learnt. These blogs are a way to pay it forward and form part of CN&CO’s belief that the world can be a better place – and we all have a responsibility to make it so. This week’s post is by Carel, who shares his remarkably positive and (unsurprisingly) practical views on death…

All good things come to an end. Even our lives. And hopefully ones well-lived.

I was in Mashatu, Botswana over Christmas 2018. Mashatu is a beautiful, peaceful, magical part of Africa. On one morning’s game drive we watched a female leopard toy for over 30 minutes with an impala that was no more than a few days old – knocking it down, biting it, daring it to move, flinging it around, dragging it up a tree by its neck and, finally, after much suffering on the tiny, and surprisingly resilient impala’s part, killing it.

Coupled with the death of my beloved canine companion of 15 years, Mika, on 18 December at 9.03am, I have been pondering the notion of death – a subject I have long been fascinated with. A few things I wish someone had told me about this topic that some people prefer not to discuss:

  • Death is not something that we can escape. Deal with your fears and misconceptions before you are confronted with the death of someone/something close to you. I am amazed by how many people refuse to deal with the notion of death until they have to. And then are usually ill prepared. Death happens to us all. Really!
  • We all deal with death differently – and there is no right or wrong way. So don’t judge and don’t expect everyone to deal with death the same. I deal with death very practically – ensure the body is cleaned, paperwork sorted – order. Others will never want to see a dead body. Having seen the dead bodies and helped with the funerals of five people, the physical closure is an important part of my mourning
  • The greatest gift you can give yourself is to have no regrets when someone dies. So have conversations, now. Share experiences, now. Don’t leave issues unresolved. Don’t procrastinate. Call now. Write that note. Say what must be said. Forgive
  • Death does not end the relationship you have with someone. The lessons you learnt and the experiences you shared continue long after the physical ending of a life. And this, for me, is what makes the heartache worthwhile. The more we love, the stronger our relationships, the deeper the pain that death causes. But that is the price we pay for those highs, those amazing moments in our lives spent with special people
  • The death of a celebrity can also have an impact on your life. In my case, the death of Ronald Reagan was a reminder of so much of my youth and political awakening. Visiting his Presidential Library in California was poignant. As was the death of Frank Sinatra, whose song My Way is definitely one to play at my funeral. Watching him in Sun City with my parents was special
  • Giving yourself time to mourn is vital. Don’t be too strong. Don’t hide your feelings. Acknowledge your pain
  • My default way of making sense of the world is to read. Read about death. Earlier this year I read a book about Hospice and learnt about old bodies shutting down near death. When my Mika’s breathing was heavy – a heaving and spluttering sound – I knew her organs were failing, thanks to what I had read. It enabled me to deal better with Mika’s death
  • Finally, enjoy life as all it has to offer – good and bad – Carpe Diem, suck the marrow, live and love. It’s a privilege of our lives. And the privilege of our deaths