By and large death is a good thing. Without death our world would be so horrendously overpopulated that we would long ago have destroyed the earth. I mean we humans are doing our best to destroy it anyway but because of our friend death we have survived this long. You see death has a purpose. That purpose is not just so that we don’t overpopulate but it is also so that others may survive. When an animal dies it decomposes. The decomposing leads to nutrition in the soil that feeds plants, that feeds us and feeds other animals. It is the circle of life as they say. It is a truism that the demise of an animal, be it human or otherwise, is another animals gain.
Yet we humans are obsessed with staying alive. I understand that we have to survive for a certain amount of time. If death happens faster than life then there will be no life left. There has to be balance. Likewise if we are staying alive at a rate that is so much greater than death then the resources of the world cannot cope. Humans know this. We hear all the time that a certain animal is breeding at such a rate that it needs to be culled because it is killing itself and there is not enough food to go around. Kangaroos, koalas, rabbits, wild horses and so on have all been subject to culls. Of course humans would never consider culling themselves but the Chinese tried a one child one couple policy. The forced abortions and sterilisation that followed, as well as the persecution are just some of the many shameful examples of mans inhumanity to man.
I have had great cause to think about death lately. Recently my father died and some good friends have passed this year too. I am a fatalist and accept death for what it is. I sometimes think humans should concentrate more on alleviating pain rather than the obsession with prolonging life. Of course it is a fine balance. If there is a disease that is going to make us all perish so that there are no humans left then of course we need to find a way to beat that and survive. But if our obsession is just about staying alive forever then we are not doing ourselves or the world any favours.
My father believed in god. He did not believe in god in the traditional religious sense of heaven and hell. He believed that the world had far too much order to have just been created randomly. He could not fathom that some randomly colliding particles led to everything we see today. He believed that the world had a delicate balance that needed to have been worked out and planned. Whether this was by a God or some other supernatural power he did not know. But for him there had to be something. In that sense he was a profoundly spiritual person.
And death and life, I guess, are part of that balance. It is a delicate balance too. We humans are so selfish and so besotted with living that we fail to see this. We fear death far too much and need to really understand its purpose. For my father his death was timely. His body had worn out. Death was welcome for him as it alleviated his pain. If he had a choice he would have liked to have controlled when he died rather than just fading away and suffering as he did. But, alas, death as it relates to humans is far too complex for that.
I was protected from the worst of my fathers suffering by the tyranny of distance. My father lived in South Australia and I in Melbourne. While I saw him as often as I was able his care was with my mother, sister and my sisters family. They provided for him in every way that they possibly could. He was very lucky indeed.
That is one of the positives of death and suffering. Mainly that it mostly brings out the best in people. When people are sick and in pain by and large people rally around. They offer support be it morale or a simple cooked dinner. They show that they care in a way that they probably didn’t in times more sedate. My father would have known that he was loved. I think he held on as long as he did because he felt that love and cherished it.
My father and I had a complex relationship. It was complex because it was built on empathy. You see, he and I struggled to communicate. I was deaf and he a mumbler. He was so very hard to lipread. My mother and my sister would be my interpreter, particularly in the later part of his life. My kids would also interpret for me. My son Tyler assisted me to communicate with my dad for an article I wrote about his life. At the end my eldest son was there to interpret for me when he was near death. I am grateful for their assistance.
I am often angry that deafness deprived me of what one might call a normal relationship with my dad. When I was young and before I became deaf he and I had many great conversations. We talked about religion, politics, football, cricket and life. He was the one who told me to defend what I saw as right. He said never take a backward step and stand up for myself. He told me many a joke and my children still suffer these jokes. Even when I lost my hearing we still managed to communicate. He would gesture, write in the air or on his palm. He never gave up.
But as he and I got older we became less tolerant and committed to communicating with each other. We relied too much on others, or mostly I did. Consequently we communicated less and less. But we understood each other in a way many people cannot. A nod, a look a shrug of the shoulder or a raising of the eyebrow was all it took. Towards the end when he could not get out of bed any more I shook his hand. It was a typical strong hand shake. He held on just a little bit longer than normal. Just his way of saying, this might be the last time, acknowledging me and letting me know he loved me. It’s more than words can do.
But even so I get angry sometimes. I wish I could have just sat at the end of his bed and talked. Asked him where it hurt and what he wanted me to do. Or simply have a chat about life and stuff to distract him from the inevitable. But we could do none of that. We just had to settle for assistance from my mum, a nod a look and that firm handshake. I wish it could have been more. That it was not pisses me off often. It is one of the really cruel things about deafness – It isolates.
That my dad is dead is not something that worries me so much. Death is needed, inevitable and often good. That my deafness prevented me from knowing him better, well that is harder to come to terms with. Such is the way of death and deaf.