Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Thursday, May 7, 2015

I talked briefly with a dying man.

It is mid autumn here and the trees have nearly lost their colourful leaves.
I took a funeral a couple of weeks ago.  Attending the funeral was a retired workmate of the man who had lost his wife. He had in fact worked with both husband and wife. He was on crutches and had a bandaged face. He has terminal cancer and when I touched base with him he asked if I would take his funeral when the time came.  I said that I hoped it was a way off yet. He later rang me and asked again, and I said I would catch up with him this week. 

I rang his home several times today, and then fearing the worst went to the Ambulance Headquarters and they told me the story. He had been sent to hospital yesterday, and today they had transported him to the local hospice. I loved this gesture. Apparently they drove out of the hospital and the driver took an unexpected left turn and diverted to the Ambulance station (not far away) so that his old colleague could have a last look around his old workplace.  When the driver saw his boss he said, "I hope I won't get in trouble?" The boss appreciated the gesture and assured him he wouldn't. After a brief visit around the building, with sad but warm farewells, they took him to the hospice. So I went down to the hospice and caught up with him. He was pretty dopey because of medications but he recognised me and we talked briefly. He seemed pleased that I had caught up. 

He is still relatively young, just a few years older than me. He is a nice guy and has been battling ill health of one sort or another since his retirement. When he was involved with the Ambulance station we had often talked. We had talked through issues of his job, his life, his history and current events. We had often laughed and we agreed together on many issues. I liked talking with him, he was a thoughtful guy.  Since he retired my contacts have been few. But as I looked at this man in the bed in the hospice, I was deeply aware that he has only a day or so to live.... then I will never get to chat with him again. New Zealand author Michael King when writing about past friendships said, "One remains grateful for the fruits of friendship and the memories they store up. But the passage of those friends and the ending of relationships by death is the most difficult and the most perplexing aspect of living."  (He wrote that when he was facing terminal cancer himself - although he died in a car accident.)  I expect death. It is the way of all life. I have taken lots of funerals, I have watched people die, I know death is a passage of life. But at the same time I am still somehow shocked by it. It really is so final for those left behind. I may never see this man again, he will be gone. ..... This living, thinking person; this person who can love, smile, relate and care will be gone; this personality will cease to be for me! ..... I remember being with a man from our drop-in centre when his brother died. He just looked at him, rubbed his brother's brow, then looked at me and simply said, "What a bugger."  I know death is an inevitable passage of life, but it is still a "bugger".

It makes us cherish our days though!

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