Slipping Off This Mortal Coil..

One of the things that happens when you get diagnosed with a life threatening illness like cancer, is that you quite rightly begin to question not just your own mortality, but maybe equally important what really is important in both life and beyond. Do not get me wrong the purpose of this blog is not to plunge people into any depression or sadness. No, my dear chum it is possibly designed to do the opposite.

Back in the naughties there used a very popular film called Four Weddings And A Funeral, Hugh Grant played the lead part as the group went through the painful process of meeting partners, falling in love, and getting married. In all fairness it was a good movie that faithfully gets wheeled out of retirement most Christmases. However, what the film also includes is the often taboo subject of death, as one of the key characters suffers a catastrophic heart attack at one of the said four funerals. I really do not understand just why the British seem to have such a taboo attitude towards death and the ending of life, as is clearly demonstrated in the film, with the bleak funeral scene in stark contrast to the colour and joy of the weddings.

Looking back on my life and times in a strange way I was exposed to the death experience at quite a young age. As a young Catholic being an alter server was a right of passage. The truth is that being part of the theatre of Catholicism was actually a good wheeze, you got to dress up, had a job of work to do during the mass, and even better got called upon to attend funerals. Now, usually this was during school time, so it was great lark to get time off out of lessons, and quite often there would be a few bob donated by the relatives who had celebrated a requiem mass complete with alter servers.

Even as a young teenager, I was always intrigued at the difference between being a totally emotionless member of the cast, compared to the very raw, sad, and emotional responses of those attending the funeral and paying their respects to the loved one that they had lost Just like the theatre there is a narrow line between the stage and actors, and the audience, but both play completely different roles. It is an odd phenomena how the death professionals are able to distance themselves from the sadness and loss, and still play a core part in the process. The funeral directors for example play a pivotal role but all is done with an almost invisible but crucial part to the proceedings.

Reflecting on my long career I have attended many funerals, the majority when I was managing bus depots and it was expected to attend the funerals of former friends and colleagues to quite rightly show support and solidarity to the families of those who passed. After all if you have given over thirty or maybe forty years to one depot and Company, then In my opinion the very least that you can do is support the family at their time of need.

Personally, since my own life was saved on September 14th last year when a massive tumour was surgically removed from my abdomen. It has made me realise a few important things, the first thing is that almost dying makes you value and cherish life , considering that if the tumour had not been found then within four short weeks it would have been inoperable, and I would have been dead before Christmas, and never have seen 2019. But, fortunately for me I survived that operation, a post Sepsis scare, and now 6 months on I am doing chemotherapy designed to keep me alive. And I am alive but this time around with a different perspective on life, death, and everything else in between.

Tomorrow I will be attending the funeral of a man called Daryl Chesney. Daryl was a complex man, he worked for many years in a senior capacity for the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport. Daryl was a man of conviction and he stuck to them, sometimes resulting in conflict and disagreement. Mind you I did not mind that even though meetings could be heated and voices raised, it was always professional and never personal. Over the course of the years I got to know Daryl quite well and I liked his fiery attitude. He was a proud Englishman, who had that refreshing way of saying things like he saw them, warts and all. Interestingly we started becoming friends after he took up Shotokan Karate, he had no idea that I had trained for years, but once he found out we had a common interest and a shared experience, our personal friendship and mutual respect developed. Sadly, Daryl was found dead at his home where it seems a heart attack ended his life at the tender age of 55.

So, I will pay my respects along with friends and colleagues from CILT and celebrate his life, and no doubt I will reflect on the whole journey of life and death, as the old saying goes there are only two certainties in life, death and taxes. So, why bother wasting time and effort worrying about either of them, there is no point, far better to focus on living in the moment and living life to the full.

Written by Austin Birks

February 20, 2019

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