40. Freed from the Cage
So I’m lying on my bed in the warm summer sun, feeling blissed out by the music of Adele or Seals and Crofts, or maybe it was the Killers, and I’m cruising on the after-effects of my wonderful new painkiller, when suddenly the door busts open and one of the caregivers strides up to my bed and urgently insists that I close the curtains.
But I’m loving this warm embracing sun. And I don’t want to shut it out.
But she’s so determined that she’s getting ready to lean right across me and close them herself.
So I look out of the window for some clue as to what she’s trying to achieve by all this drama, when I realise that there’s a trolley out there at the Rest Home entrance, and there’s the unmistakeable figure of a person lying under a sheet.
“The body?” I gesture enquiringly with a nod to the trolley. Dumbly she nods her own head, looking embarrassed and at a loss for a response.
“It’s ok,” I reassure her. “I’m fine with dead bodies.” I repeat this several times ‘cos she doesn’t seem to be taking it in.
And fine I am. I’ve seen several dead bodies in my time, and been estimated by various G.P.’s to be close to death myself on four occasions. Besides, I’ve realised by now that I just don’t think like most of the people around me do.
When I first arrived here at what was to be my new and final home, filled with the elderly and infirm, I figured that dying must be pretty high on their radar. I guessed that since it had to be a rather routine kind of event, people would be pretty blasé about the whole thing. How wrong I was.
Despite most of this elderly generation describing themselves as Christian and presumably thus being assured of a life after death, the reality turned out to be that even mentioning death around here had the effect of admitting to being a serial killer.
As for me, I’m a Baha’i. ‘Abdu’l-Baha sums up my own attitude by describing a person’s death in these words;
”I have been freed from a small and gloomy cage and, like the birds of the meadows, have soared to the divine world—a world which is spacious, illumined, and ever gay and jubilant.”
Sounds good to me. So death is a pretty well-accepted event in my family. One of my children is even publishing a book on related subjects at the moment.
And our much admired atheist member is probably so ‘over’ the number of false alarms we’ve had over the years that he should be pretty relaxed about it too; also, being a doctor must broaden his attitudes.
So we’ve bought the plot, chosen the venue, agreed on the nature of any organ donation, outlined the programme and enlisted the future help of various friends to wash/wrap/ sing/recite/serve and the numerous other tasks that will be involved. (Hope I didn’t scare you there with too much information).
It’s almost an anticlimax now that I seem to be making some kind of an albeit tenuous recovery, but M.S. is like that. One day you feel at death’s door and on the next you’ve started writing a new project.
”O SON OF THE SUPREME! I have made death a messenger of joy to thee. Wherefore dost thou grieve? I made the light to shed on thee its splendor. Why dost thou veil thyself therefrom?”
When I find myself talking with someone who’s a life-after-death sceptic, I encourage them to watch the fascinating Renee Pasarow You Tube video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xB-T78qgfHM&t=249s). Or most recently, the excellent talk by real-life TV star Baha’i Justin Baldoni. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dRQ9sYdh_d0).
In fact I was so impressed by the reassuring nature of his approach that I’ve gone to the extent of asking in my will for all my grandchildren over 10 years of age to watch his show, because it just makes so much sense. You should watch it too.
Anyway, now I'm reflecting upon my genealogic roots and their various traditional funerary practices. My Scottish Presbyterian elders seemed to approach funerals as immensely sombre and sober events with much wearing of black, and no humour whatsoever to enliven the earnest dreadfulness of the proceedings. And you thought it was only the English who were the embodiment of the ‘stiff upper lip’?
In my experience, Presbyterians seemed to be born that way. This stands in stark contract with the wake of my distant Irish ancestors, who seemed to consider death an excellent and lengthy occasion for the consumption of large amounts of alcohol and fairly riotous behaviour, judging mainly by the writings of J. P. Donleavy and several other favourite Irish authors of my immature less dignified past.
My Cornish Celtic roots called for more respectful occasions, ennobled by soulstirring male voice choirs Personally, I’d prefer to borrow from my part-Maori family and the tangi, which elevates the grief process to a 3-day event combining close family support and warm reunions, remembrance of ancestral origins and the freedom to grieve freely, collectively and at length.
All this with much singing, fuelled by generous and ongoing supplies of food whose preparation required men to play an important role with women in its provision (note in its favour; Maori women are not solely relegated to the kitchen).
So here I am, anticipating my own funeral which will be the first one ever in my family history to reflect Baha’i funeral practice. I was going to say ‘embody’ Baha’i funeral practice but then changed that word to ‘reflect’ so as not to disturb my more delicate readers sensitivities by unnecessary attention to the ‘body’ aspect of death.
“O CHILDREN OF NEGLIGENCE! Set not your affections on mortal sovereignty and rejoice not therein. Ye are even as the unwary bird that with full confidence warbleth upon the bough; till of a sudden the fowler Death throws it upon the dust, and the melody, the form and the color are gone, leaving not a trace. Wherefore take heed, O bondslaves of desire!” - Bahá’u’lláh
“Thou hast asked Me concerning the nature of the soul. Know, verily, that the soul is a sign of God, a heavenly gem whose reality the most learned of men hath failed to grasp, and whose mystery no mind, however acute, can ever hope to unravel. It is the first among all created things to declare the excellence of its Creator, the first to recognize His glory, to cleave to His truth, and to bow down in adoration before Him. If it be faithful to God, it will reflect His light, and will, eventually, return unto Him. If it fail, however, in its allegiance to its Creator, it will become a victim to self and passion, and will, in the end, sink in their depths. Whoso hath, in this Day, refused to allow the doubts and fancies of men to turn him away from Him Who is the Eternal Truth, and hath not suffered the tumult provoked by the ecclesiastical and secular authorities to deter him from recognizing His Message, such a man will be regarded by God, the Lord of all men, as one of His mighty signs, and will be numbered among them whose names have been inscribed by the Pen of the Most High in His Book.”
So that’s what I’m looking forward to. I’d like my funeral to be more like the lovely events my family prepare for my birthday during which, in place of gifts, both adults and children entertain with various musical offerings on piano, violin, guitar, ukulele and voice.
There is still room for tears at such an occasion, such as when the littlest one feels he hasn’t been given his due opportunity as the appointed Master Of Ceremonies for the day.
So there must be room for tears and sadness, but I hope my family will be less darkened by a sense of loss and more able to enjoy memories of the special times we spent together, with the reassurance that at last I have been released from my cage.
"Whither can a lover go but to the land of his beloved? and what seeker findeth rest away from his heart's desire? To the true lover reunion is life, and separation is death. His breast is void of patience and his heart hath no peace. A myriad lives he would forsake to hasten to the abode of his beloved.” - Bahá’u’lláh