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Posts Tagged ‘death’

Given my reference to James Joyce’s Ulysses in the next post, it seemed a good idea to post this poem now.

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Beech hedge

Yet another rather longer poem from the early 1980s, to complement the ones referred to in the previous post.

Letter to a dear Friend in Winter

I wanted to see now
Without then between. How
Impossible! Yet hope haunts me.
The colours of regret stain you
And everything. O for the white
Light of outdoors,
Not church colours!
At times, pain forced me into flight
Towards desolate pleasures, through
Bars, packs of shuffling days: each lie
Weakened my hold on any vow.

Now I scribble a lot
Searching for what is not.
The sunrise of autumn hedgerows
Warned me about this mud and stone
Sky. Beech leaves cling like memories –
Dry, brittle, dust-
Coloured. I must
Make sense of what all sense denies.
Cells, nerves, too feeble on their own
To decipher what the snail shows,
Or the corpse whose wheels of mind rot.

Once I held a fledgeling
At point of death – I’d sing
Of death who’d never watched the last
Act’s surrender or victory –
A sigh was all betrayed the change –
No, not sigh – death –
But flight of breath –
Quiet sundering to unhinge
The gate of thought! When our mind’s eye
No longer detects in the vast
Dark the flame to which we cling

What has become of us?
Here is the syllabus.
Where is the teacher and the school?
At this question all our endeavour
Ends. Perhaps it’s better to ask:
‘What if the mind
Fails to find,
On the bleak shore where the dead bask,
The shelter it always yearns for,
Are we to suppose it a fool
As it scours the dark for warm places?’

I’ve no affinity
With God as Trinity
For sure, since my need for answers
Finds finespun theology wide
Of the mark. So, here I stand.
My evidence
Preserved silence
In the question of my still hand,
A small ball whose still feathers hid
Still warm flesh. Nothing reassures.
I felt the infinity

Between fledgling and meat
Silence my every thought . . . .
Until the habit of thinking
Resumed its race to run the truth
To ground. If this opportunity
Beneath the skies,
Though shared with flies
And blind with relativity,
Is not to be wasted like my youth,
From my heart’s earth love must spring
– God knows how I’ll choose to act.

Pete Hulme Text © 1982[1]


[1] This is a poem written in the year I eventually became a Bahá’í and reflects the struggles I was having then which are explored from a different angle in Irreducible Mind (2/3).

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As a regular attender at the Hereford Death Cafe every month, how could I possibly resist posting this excellent article by  which I read in Saturday’s Guardian. Below is a short extract: for the full post see link.

Is there a good way to approach the end of life? , a palliative care doctor, believes there is – and that we can all learn from her patients

he’s called Gemma. She’s three years old. She fell into a canal,” said a senior nurse. “By the time her parents managed to get her out, apparently she’d already stopped breathing.” “Paramedics three minutes away,” called another nurse, holding the scarlet phone on which emergencies were called through. With a grace and efficiency akin to choreography, a team of professionals who moments beforehand had been as disparate as atoms, dispersed across the hospital, were poised around an empty resuscitation bed, waiting as one to swing into action.

The consultant quietly confirmed each team member’s role. The anaesthetist, responsible for airway. The scribe, who would note down, in meticulous detail, the timings, the drugs, the doses, every iota of care which, if we were lucky, might snatch life back from lifelessness. Doctor one, doctor two – the roles and responsibilities went on. Then, a moment of silence before the paramedics’ brute force pushed a trolley through the swing doors and there, tiny, limp and pale, lay a toddler, unmoving beneath the harsh fluorescent lights.

It was impossible to hear the paramedics’ handover above the screams of Gemma’s mother. “Save her!” she pleaded, over and over. “Please, please, save her!” Gently, a nurse discussed with her whether she wished to stay or leave the bay for a moment. The crash team worked on, its focus absolute. In moments, the child had been intubated. Tubes and electrodes sprouted everywhere. Tiny, toddler-sized chest compressions continued, interrupted every two minutes to check for the resumption of a heartbeat.

Too inexperienced to help, I hovered on the periphery, trying not to wear my shock visibly. I had never before seen a child this unwell. Unless the crash team managed to restart the heart, I was watching, in effect, a dead little girl. I thought of my own toddler, safe at nursery, and of the magnitude of the horror with which Gemma’s mother, sequestered in a relatives’ room, must now be seized.

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Grave & Courtyard v2

We’ve had another meeting of the Death Cafe again – only six people this time, but still a good solid number.

The main topics we covered were ‘Is there life after death?’, the origins of the kind of toxic prejudice that ends up killing people and organising your own funeral.

Since then I’ve spotted an article in the Guardian that goes some way to explaining a phenomena that raises a wry laugh at most Death Cafe Meetings: ‘Why do people bury their head so deeply in the sand about death, so that the very idea of a Death Cafe seems hopelessly grim to them?’

The article in part reads as follows:

Warning: this story is about death. You might want to click away now.

That’s because, researchers say, our brains do their best to keep us from dwelling on our inevitable demise. A study found that the brain shields us from existential fear by categorising death as an unfortunate event that only befalls other people.

“The brain does not accept that death is related to us,” said Yair Dor-Ziderman, at Bar Ilan University in Israel. “We have this primal mechanism that means when the brain gets information that links self to death, something tells us it’s not reliable, so we shouldn’t believe it.”

Being shielded from thoughts of our future death could be crucial for us to live in the present. The protection may switch on in early life as our minds develop and we realise death comes to us all.

They go on to explain the exact nature of the study pointing in this direction before drawing an interesting conclusion about the world we live in now:

Dor-Ziderman added: “We cannot rationally deny that we will die, but we think of it more as something that happens to other people.” The study will be published in NeuroImage next month.

In the not-so-distant past, Dor-Ziderman pointed out, our brain’s defences against thoughts of death were balanced out by the reality of death around us. Today, he believes, society is more death-phobic, with sick people confined to hospitals and elderly people to care homes. As a result, he suspects, people know far less about the end of life and perhaps come to fear it more.

According to Arnaud Wisman, a psychologist at the University of Kent, this is further confounded by our culture of distraction:

His own work had found that in modern societies people embraced what he called the “escape treadmill”, where hard work, pub sessions, checking mobile phones and buying more stuff meant people were simply too busy to worry about death.

The next meeting of the Death Cafe will be at 6 pm on Tuesday 19 November at the Courtyard Theatre Hereford.

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After yet again recently revisiting the period of my father’s death in a poem, it seemed only fair to republish a few poems from an earlier sequence that will help put that in context. I have missed some from that sequence that don’t relate to the grief, and some others that I’ve only recently republished.

Reading in the Park

 

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After yet again recently revisiting the period of my father’s death in a poem, it seemed only fair to republish a few poems from an earlier sequence that will help put that in context. I have missed some from that sequence that don’t relate to the grief, and some others that I’ve only recently republished.

Try the Emptiness

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