"Just because a person is dying, doesn't mean that they've got to stop living! My mother died very young at the age of 64 years. She was always smiling, laughing, singing out of tune or telling the tallest of stories every day I can remember. Before she died, she went into Staincliffe Hospital for some routine condition. As usual, when I visited her, we were joking and laughing together about one thing or another. I left the ward that evening in a jocular mood saying, 'I'll be back in two days, Mum. Try and hang on until then, if possible!' Mum smiled and waved back as I left the ward. That was the last time I saw mum alive; she suddenly died one day later.
After her sudden death, I could have felt guilty about the ironic words I spoke last to her, but I didn't. I knew that mum wouldn't have wanted that. Besides, although deeply shocked by her death, I was eternally grateful that the last thing we exchanged was a parting kiss and a smile. I have often thought about that occasion and have since realised just how agonising a parting it would have been, had I known that mum was destined to die one day later. Instead, I am so glad it ended like it did, as there was nothing between us which had been left unsaid!
Between the early ages of 18 and 21 years, I was a member of the Churches' 'St Vincent de Paul Society.' The Society was initially formed in Paris in 1833 by Blessed Frederic Ozanam and his companions. It has been active in England and Wales since the 1840's. It was placed under the patronage of St. Vincent de Paul and its purpose is to help those who are suffering from any form of want or health situation, irrespective of ideology, faith, ethnicity, age or gender.
My prime task involved visiting the sick and dying residents of 'The Cheshire Home' in Cleckheaton. During this period, three or four of the people I visited regularly in the home died, and while I found each death to take very hard, I also drew comfort from knowing that I'd been able to share it. One gentleman and old soldier I got to know well before he died told me that until we each discover something that we were prepared to die for, there is no life worth the living. He felt that having been prepared to die for King and Country, along with securing the freedom of his children and grandchildren, made him less fearful of death. He also said that he'd once read that dead soldiers killed on the battlefields come back to their families as guardian angels, and stay forever with them as shadows or dreams.
I realise that many readers will be thinking, what a strange thing for an 18- year-old boy to do, when others of my age were going out dancing at the Town Hall, visiting the cinema and occupying the back row, besides chasing pretty girls across fields and dale. The bottom line is, after a serious accident at the age of 11 years when I wasn't expected to live, and then wasn't expected to walk, I made a promise to God that if I did, I would do whatever I could during the rest of my life to help others. God kept his word and I have done my very best to keep faith with mine ever since. Oh, and for the record, I managed to do all the other things young men in their late teens do as well!
Having known a great many people who have died over my 73 years of life has taught me that this natural phase of a person's existence strengthens some bereaved people and hardens the heart of others; particularly where death was taken or given up in unnatural circumstances like murder or suicide. The whole world can easily become an enemy when someone we love dies and is lost to us in tragic circumstances.
I once heard of a couple who'd been married for over sixty years when the wife was diagnosed with a terminal illness and died after a three-week stay in hospital. During her last three weeks of life, her husband would visit daily and bring with him photograph albums of their happy family doing all manner of silly things. Each evening, as her elderly husband entered the ward, carrying some memento of happier times, his wife's face would light up to see him, and during the visit, the couple could be heard to laugh heartily and often. Other visitors on the ward would sometimes think their behaviour to be odd, given the grave medical circumstances of the patient.
I have often wondered about the last occasion this loving couple met during the husband's visit, and in particular, what the man thought and felt on the occasion he walked into the ward and saw his wife's bed empty and made up for the next patient. I imagined him saying something like, 'Poor lass; she never would wait around when there was somewhere else to go!'
Death is never an easy thing to see and share, especially when we know and love the person doing the dying. Grief can heavily burden the bereaved, but it can also be an anchor that holds you in place, once you get used to the weight of loss attached to it.
We should never lose our capacity to love; love is living immortality. Our lives will never be lost by dying. Life is forfeited each moment we fail to live it; it is lost minute by minute, day by day, week by week, month by month and year by year in so many uncaring ways, along with the opportunities we fail to seize at the moment of their birth.
So laugh, laugh out loud; smile and let your world smile with you. It is a good day. It is a good day to be alive!" William Forde: October 7th, 2016.