This is our truth, tell us yours
The passing of Nelson Mandela has reminded me of the truism that when we grieve, we mourn for those left behind rather than those who have gone. For some he was a reminder of their youth, and a cause that united with a hero they could uncritically adore. For others he was an icon of their own particular movements, proof that moral courage and integrity can lead to real world change. His place in the life of so many is undisputed and he may, as The Onion remarkably said so well, be irreplaceable.
His death though was what can be called a good death, if we move away from thinking about ourselves, and what the world has lost. He died at 95, surrounded by family, children, grandchildren, in his own house, after fighting for so many years, he has to fight no more. That word, fight, is so much a part of modern medicine. We call people brave, talk about their battles, their courage, each illness must be defeated. The language of warfare fills our hospitals, with the patients the battle ground.
Recently a campaign against the Liverpool Pathway was launched, and succeeded in getting it removed from hospitals. People have become so blinded by the idea that intervention is the only decent care for those who are dying, so concerned with their own feelings as those left behind that, they attacked a framework intended to leave people at peace. It seems if we are not raging against they dying of the light we are doing death wrong.
There seems to be a refusal to accept that death happens, that interventions are mainly for the benefit of those who can say, we tried everything. It goes back to that idea death is a war to be won, which is of course impossible, but the thought persists. When death is seen in these terms, then dying becomes a failure, a surrender, a giving up.
Remembering Mandela, his deeds, his example, his life is fitting. Grieving is far more about us though than him. He had by all accounts a good death, perhaps that is another thing we can learn from. We all die, leaving good memories, a mark on the world that leaves it a better place, those we can do something about. We can no more defeat death than we can bring someone back to life who has gone.