“I can’t find your pulse,” the nurse said.
This didn’t bode well for my employment prospects. I was sitting there, breathing, blinking, alive as far as I could tell, enduring a medical check for a job I wanted so badly, and which hinged on this evaluation.
The nurse continued prodding at my wrist to no avail. I waited for her to lift her eyes and solemnly shake her head, to say, “I’m sorry Claire, the medical requirements for this position are strict: criteria number 5.4 specifies you must be alive!”
She didn’t say that, of course. Eventually she did find a vein with the requisite throb of blood flow to confirm my humanity to the new boss. Cue Hallelujah Chorus.
One day my pulse will stop. We each, every one of us, have a death date. We can frequent the gym, gargle green smoothies, cook with goji berries, chia seeds and maca powder, detox, pop vitamins and steer clear of sugar like it’s the devil incarnate, but even with the best, most holistic, health-conscious treatment of our flesh, it will still ultimately expire.
I’ve heard it said that we are not prepared to live until we are prepared to die. Psalm 90:12 says a similar thing, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (NIV)
I read the most profound story in Frankie magazine (Sept/Oct edition) of a young woman who, after being diagnosed with thyroid cancer at 22 and enduring a battery of treatments, continues to live with its threat, needing blood tests every three to six months.
Michal Wright’s story opens like this, “I live by the Latin motto Memento Mori, which means ‘remember that you will die’. Some people think that’s morbid, but if you remember you’re going to die, you’ll also remember you are living.”
And live she does.
The music student took up the harp after her diagnosis and was introduced to the concept of music thanatology. What, you say? I’d never heard of it either.
“Music thanatologists use music, specifically harp and voice, to comfort people at the end of their lives,” Michal explains.
She begins a two-year program in music thanatology this month with the hope of making training available in Australia.
“I think any kind of suffering develops compassion, and that deepening of compassion is what has drawn me to music thanatology,” Michal says.
“As a society we don’t handle death and dying very well; we wish it away. That makes it hard for the person to go through the process and let go. I want to be able to sit comfortably with what’s happening to them.”
Any day now our state government will again attempt to legalise euthanasia ahead of the state election in March next year. You may have seen the ads by lobby group Dying with Dignity – they’re massaging social conscience, trying to leverage support.
Yes – talk about death. Talk about it because it’s relevant to everyone who has blood pulsing through their veins. But let’s not be so narrow as to consider ‘assisted dying’ the holy grail of death choice.
Michal, a 29-year-old living with the possibility that cancer will take her life soon, without warning, and perhaps painfully, said she wouldn’t change a thing.
“Even if I live a shorter life, it will have been more fulfilling,” she says.
Death makes us live with a sharper sense of purpose.
First published in The Examiner Newspaper for Keeping the Faith column on Monday September 23, 2013.