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9 March 2011

Posted by DMC on 9 March 2011 in Diary |

 I listen to a fascinating programme in the early hours of the morning,, a couple of nights ago, entitled Death and Dying. It was a repeat of a radio discussion in 2008, on the BBC World Service Interview series, with the 90-year-old authoress Diana Athill, who has written on the subject of death. Miss Athill is an atheist and was very articulate about her approach to death and ‘the beyond’.

In a nutshell she made the following points;

Even at 90 she gives no thought to how much longer she’s got to live,  that would be a waste of time. She does however, from, time to time, tell herself that she will not be here for this or that, for example, global warming.

It irks her that she is not as mobile as she was as there are lots and lots of things that she still wants to do.

For example. friends and neighbours  often show her wonderful holidays, places she would like to go but  what’s the point of going when she can’t walk about. She is not prepared to attempt to go by wheelchair because of the complications involved.

She hates to be a burden and, in fact, was always frightened of becoming one in her old age. She has had one or two friends who have become disabled and, indeed, became a burden to her but she accepted it  cheerfully as they had to be helped and therefore they were not a burden in the true sense of the word, as anyone you love should never be a burden. Being a burden in old age is something to be dreaded.

She is not frightened of death itself. it never has frightened her as an idea but she is frightened of the idea of approaching it more and more slowly  and getting more and more helpless and she hopes that she will just fall down one day and that will be that.

She had a very good friend, who died recently, and the last two years were absolutely horrid and miserable. She was extremely brave but could do nothing for herself, she became incontinent, she could not move without falling down. She had to have help with everything but she still had wits about her and therefore knew fully how humiliating and miserable the whole thing was. Although, every time there was a  crisis and she had to be taken to hospital, if it had been Miss Athill she would have hoped to depart this life, but she was surprised that her friend was always very pleased when she survived.

When asked by the interviewer did she talk much about death or just write about it, Miss Athill said that she just wrote about it is as really there wasn’t very much to say on the subject

She was very much encouraged by her 96-year-old Mother’s death. She lived on her own right up to the end, not dependent upon anybody. She could do a little gardening, on her two sticks. One day her gardener said that she was not looking too well and she admitted to feeling a little funny and asked to be taken back to the house. Her home help recognised heart failure, rushed her to hospital where she had one day of misery which was very horrid and frightening. She was heavily sedated with morphine and Miss Athill spent the day talking to her mother who was very calm and spoke of many ordinary things. Then she mentioned buying the eucalyptus tree at the time the gardener  had noticed that she was not looking at all well. Miss Atwell asked her mother was it fun and she answered it was absolutely divine and they were the last words she spoke. So she died with this lovely image of the beautiful countryside, which she absolutely adored. It was a gift that she died like that because she was not a bit frightened of dying.

Miss Athill said that she thought that some people were inhibited about speaking about death and others were just plain scared. Her father was a believing Christian who was terrified at the thought of dying and would not talk about it. Whereas Miss Athill had been an atheist, since she was confirmed as a young girl, and did not mind in the least  when she died as there was nothing more after death. She was not concerned at all about being part of eternity. She then mentioned an out of body experience she had when she had had her appendix out and. was still   partially anaesthetised. She saw little scenes floating about and thought to herself, my goodness, it does go on, and I am going to have to cope with it and that frightened her because she had no idea what she would have to do. She thought then perhaps she had made a mistake in not believing in God and then said to herself, nonsense, she couldn’t change now.   The thought that she might go on after death was horrifying but the thought of a sudden end was a great relief.

When asked if she saw dying as a journey going from a state of life to nothing. She said, not really. She saw it as something very disagreeable happening to her body.  She was then asked her view on voluntary euthanasia or assisted suicide. She accepted that it was extremely difficult to make laws about such issues but she believed in both. She knew of a friend of hers whose wife had helped  her husband, who was in extreme pain, to die by taking an overdose. She had prepared it and left it in on the bedside table and then left the room. She realised it was a terrible thing to do and she adored her husband but she never once regretted it. Miss .Athill said she would do it herself if any of her friends  were crying out for death. In her own case she didn’t think she could ever ask anyone to help her as it is a terrible thing to do quite, apart from the legal aspect. It could only be done by someone who loved you tremendously, otherwise it would be murder and you could not ask someone to do that.

When asked if she was waiting to die or live she answered very positively busy livingthat. but acknowledged that the ability to go on living depended tremendously upon good health. She said she was extremely lucky in enjoying reasonably good health and was able to continue to do many of the things she had enjoyed in the past, reading, embroidering, taking an interest in her garden and so on. but she did regret planting things which would take many years to mature and realising that she would never live to see that day.

She could not bear people who would not buy things because they were very old. Like a friend of hers who would not buy a new cooker as she said she would not get very much use out of it. She used to get very cross with her. She did accept that there were a lot of old people who did not enjoy life because they had nothing to interest them, like writing or painting or even making something, even if they did not do it particularly well, it would keep them happy

She was asked if she would take eternity if offered it. She thought not. However, if offered eternal youth in a happy world she might be tempted. She said she could not understand those people who had themselves frozen in the hope that one day they would be able to be brought back to life. This was absurd

Upon reflection, and reading back this inadequate  précis of what Miss Athill  had said in this interview, I realise that it might be hard for the reader to understand why I found it so compelling apart from the fact that she appeared to hold the same views on many issues as I did myself. I can only recommend that the reader gets onto BBC iplayer and listens to the interview with this ‘half-glass-full you lady’, then I believe they will understand why I thought it worthwhile dedicating an entry in this blog to it.

I have at last received an answer to my letter to the Prime Minister concerning mentoring (see 11th of February entry). It seems that my own vision of the Big Society does not include what he has in mind. It was a very polite brush off however.” Mr Cameron  much appreciates your taking the time and trouble to inform him of your views”

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