During my long life I have not been confronted with too many people dying, but those I was present for, made a huge impression on my life and how I viewed the world and life generally – as death rather tends to do………
The first time I was consciously aware of someone’s death was in Port Said in about 1947 while we were on our way to Australia (the various deaths I must have seen during the bombardment of England during the war I have no recollection of), and that was a pick-pocket who was on the ship among loads of Egyptian people trying to sell stuff to the passengers, which was the normal way when ships went through the canal.
Anyhow, this fellow carried out his profession but was seen by the victim, who shouted out something to the effect of “Stop thief”, whereupon the Egyptian cops who were also on board , simply shot the poor bloke, which made a heck of an impression on this 5 year old! I can recall standing near to his body as the cops sorted out what should happen to him now that he was dead. Like all dead people I have seen, he looked very peaceful, as all the facial muscles relax when one is dead, so a bland expression is the norm for all corpses – which is a pity for those writers who delight in phrases such as:- “The dead guy’s face showed sheer terror and showed how terrible his death had been…..” Never true I am afraid!
Anyhow, the body was duly hauled away, and we carried on to Aden, a God-forsaken place if ever their was one, where I saw my second corpse. This time it was simply a bloke lying on the pavement who I was told was simply dying – though of what, wasn’t specified. Anyhow, there he was, about to die, and I had to step over him to carry on with our wander around the town of Aden. So that is exactly what I did, but I stopped once I had stepped over him, and stayed to see what happened. What happened was that he carried on with the business of dying, and duly died, while I watched in fascinated horror. As I have since noticed when someone dies, peacefully, one knows exactly when he has departed as there is a marked change in how someone seems, it is hard to describe, but in all the occasions I have been present when someone died peacefully, it was totally obvious when they actually died, even if they were unconscious as they died. A change that is impossible to describe happens to them, at the moment of death.
The next time I saw someone dying was many years later, when I was about 17 or 18 years old, and was working in a lunatic asylum (as a holiday job) when I was present for several deaths (patients). All died peacefully in their beds, and all of them died in the same way – while asleep. Even so, I knew exactly when they had died as that change happened that I first noticed with that guy in Aden.
Since when, happily, I have not been present at anyone’s death, and frankly, I hope that the next one I am present for will be my own – but in the worlds of Spike Milligan, “I am not afraid of dying, I just don’t want to be there when it happens!”
If this post sparks any thoughts in you, please share them via the comments section below – simply scroll on down and you will see it. We will be really appreciative of any thoughts you might have on the topic of dying.