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Course On Dying
Rage against the dying of the light
Sarah is 85 and for the past ten years she has been thinking “I may only have ten years left.” But that’s still a possibility, as she’s feeling quite chipper. She’s not morbid. But around her friends are succumbing to hip replacements, strokes, colonoscopies, stress tests, X-rays, blood tests and diagnostic procedures and pills of every kind. She even goes to the odd funeral. Let’s admit it: Sarah is just a little uneasy.
Giving a lot of thought to dying is not uncommon among the elderly. Will it hurt? Is there anything on the other side? If so, how will she handle meeting both her husbands? What if that ghastly neighbor over the fence is there on the other side too? Should she, like Dylan Thomas, refuse to go gentle into that Good Night? How will that help?
How will it affect her small grandson? He already expresses misgivings about her longevity: ‘I don’t want you to die, Granny.’ His fear tugs at her heartstrings. She wants to give him enough hugs to last him till he grows up and finds himself a woman.
Sarah isn’t afraid of death. She has always known it would get her in the end. If that is the end, she won’t be conscious to regret it. If there’s a Life Hereafter it will be interesting. Sarah is always game for adventure. She’s not keen on the idea of Eternity but presumably there will be coaching on how to cope with it. Sarah is a pragmatic woman. When her joints creak she feels lucky; some of her friends died before arthritis had time to set in. You must expect a few handicaps: your eyesight fails, you can’t quite hear and occasionally your knees give way, but you are lucky to have lived so long.
When she sees at the library that there is a Course on Dying, she signs up for it. She likes to be prepared, anticipate problems in advance. She made her Will years ago and threw out all her letters from old lovers. It’s best to cover your tracks. But she wants to check she has everything covered.
How should she dress for such a class? Something red and cheerful; she doesn’t want to depress anybody. She puts on a perky hat retrieved from the back of the closet, and polishes her nails. High heels are beyond her, but she has some smart sandals and her best trousers still have a sharp crease.
She takes a seat near the back of the room so she can withdraw if the course is troubling. She takes her notebook and pen, and a deep breath, and waits for the speaker’s introduction.
“Welcome, ladies and gentlemen,” says the speaker, “I see we do have a few gentlemen interested in this topic too. Today I’m going to tell you about natural dyes you can make from plants in your garden, and their application to materials for garments, wool, cotton and so on. Please pass around the color charts. My first exhibit is a purple knitted blanket I made from beetroot and the wool of my own sheep.”
After Sarah recovers from the surprise, she listens carefully. At the end of the hour she buys some beautiful merino wool and a large pair of knitting needles. A new hobby: how lovely.
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