On Death and Dying. Chapter 1. Lesson 01.

holding handsIt’s the ultimate irony that an atheist will never know if they are right, (that there’s nought after death)  but those that believe in celestial spheres will never know if they are wrong (that’s there’s nought after death), I think this is why some folk hedge their bets and believe in something after death, after all, what have they got to lose?

It’s a generalisation but once a person gets past 50 then the usual turn of events is that people around us start falling ill and dying. Generally, and I stress generally, most of us make it to our 50’s without having to attend too many funerals (I know some young folk who break this rule). But then it seems body systems wear out (helped along with crap diet, smoking, drinking, lack of exercise and living too close to a friggen nuclear power station) and suddenly the damn bursts and one hears about colleagues falling ill and passing away suddenly. One of my colleagues, an Irish friend passed away suddenly last week, totally unexpected and quite a shock to us all and a part of me is wondering about the atheist/believer scenario. I wonder where she is now – apart from six foot under of course.

Death seems to be a taboo subject in this society and I think it’s because it’s so unknown, no-one seems to have definite proof of what happens (unless you’re an atheist of course) but after working for a long time on a major London ICU I think I have slightly more insight than the average bear. Having held the hands of the dying on so many occasions and watched them slip away, I’ve learnt two important lessons.

1. Nature is not cruel. As the time of death approaches I’d say none of my patients felt any discomfort. Yes, we would be failing in our job to let anyone feel pain but there’s another physiological reason why people tend to pass away peacefully. Towards the end your systems tend to break down; your liver, kidneys, heart, lungs, nervous system etc start to fail and so does the oxygen exchange in your lungs. What this means is that your brain also starts to fail, it’s not getting an adequate supply of oxygen plus all the toxins (natural by-products of metabolism) and CO2 build up and the brains ability to function efficiently is severely impaired, and this goes for the ability to feel pain signals via the nervous system, the nerves don’t work effectively and the brains ability to process those signals is hampered as well. It’s like trying to drive a car with polluted fuel and blocked air-intake/exhaust, the engine is not going to run effectively, it’s going to eventually stall. It was obvious to me that as death approached the person progressively withdrew from this world and became unable to feel any sensations at all.

2. My mother believes emphatically in a Heaven and Hell so the following is going to annoy her greatly. She thinks everyone who hasn’t accepted Jesus into their heart is doomed to eternal fire and brimstone for eternity. I think even the modern day church has moved away from such views. Personally, I have absolutely no doubt that we come from a place of complete and total love and we all return to that place, all of us, no matter who we are, because quite simply, there is no where else to go. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin wrote in 1955 ‘we are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience’. This is a fundamental truth and each and every soul returns home to a place of love love love, where there is no blame, no fear, only the unconditional love that a parent gives to a child.

Having said all that, I hope when I die that somebody holds my hand.