On the pilgrim way: ‘Love has renewed my zest for life’
Sheila Maxey celebrates life at 80
On a lovely, relaxing holiday by the river Deben in Suffolk, I read a book on dying. With the End in Mind is by a retired palliative care consultant and her passionate concern was that the reader should understand that the dying process can be as positive as the process of pregnancy and birth. The book was packed full of stories from decades of work with the dying – young people, those in middle life and old people. Some were surrounded by family, others were supported by just one dear person. In one story, a person was accompanied only by a beloved cat.
I shed many tears because the author told the stories of parting so movingly. But what has stuck with me was how important it was for all concerned that the love clearly present was openly expressed in word or action. It almost seemed as if hearing those words of love, or receiving a kiss, hug or cuddle, gave the dying person permission to safely let go and die.
I have been receiving messages of love and appreciation in spades over the past few days – I have not had to wait until I am dying! Having just celebrated my 80th birthday, I have been overwhelmed by the cards and flowers and presents.
A very special gift came from my favourite German cousin. He had taken the trouble to trawl through old photos and letters and made a little folder about our relationship, starting in 1956 when he visited my home in Scotland. Alongside the photos, he wrote a reflection on what we did together. As he traced our friendship through the years, he attached a copy of a letter I wrote him in 1961 describing my then fiancé (now husband, Kees) and expressing my longing for the two of them to meet.
Our three children came for 24 hours – a rare and costly gathering in the midst of their busy lives. One had flown from Scotland; another had made a cake. It was the first time for many decades that we were a family of five again. I enjoyed sitting, listening to how well they related to each other, each appreciating the others’ very different life patterns and paths. I also basked in their loving words to me. The effect of all this love – when I managed not to be embarrassed and to resist the temptation to say to those who showered me with gifts: ‘You shouldn’t!’ – has actually been to renew my zest for life.
I know it is obvious, a truism, even banal, but it seems that love oils the wheels of both living and dying. And so many texts from the Bible lift that love from the banal to the sublime. ‘God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God and God abides in them.’ (1 John 4:16) ‘[Nothing] will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ (Romans 8:39) ‘And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.’ (1 Corinthians 13:13)
Sheila Maxey is Book Reviews Editor for Reform. With the End in Mind is by Kathryn Mannix (William Collins, 2018)
This article was published in the May 2018 edition of Reform