The Reading Theology group at St Martin’s has been studying a wonderful book by Dr Kathryn Mannix, a palliative care specialist, called ‘With the End in Mind’. Using case studies, Dr Mannix describes the possibility of meeting death gently, with forethought and preparation, and shows the unexpected beauty, dignity, and humanity of life coming to an end.
Our life story begins with our birth. We’re not consulted about our parentage, our ethnicity, the circumstances into which we are born, our gender, sexuality, or anything else. Life is then snatched from us too soon, just as we were starting to enjoy it; or we’re left to dwindle too long and we get sick of it. Either way, we have no say about the time, place and manner of our demise. All in all, it seems like a pretty bad deal.
But that is not the whole story. We learn that life is a gift of grace and that through the exercise of our free will we can – within the boundaries of whatever life throws at us – shape its disposition. We learn which battles to fight: the things we can change and want to change, and the things we cannot change or would be better off not trying to change.
As we shape the disposition of our lives, we are also shaping the disposition of our deaths. Leonardo da Vinci had spotted this when he wrote in his notebook: ‘While I thought that I was learning how to live, I have been learning how to die.’
If we do it well, accepting freely and peacefully the things that we cannot change, our lives and our deaths will both be manifestations of the freedom that has been given to us.
Perhaps it’s not such a bad deal after all.