Sunday, March 06, 2011


I can’t remember my source, Mary Lou, but the numbers make me confident. Lent is based on the 40 days Our Lord spent fasting in the wilderness – and yet it seems to be six and a half weeks long, until you subtract the six Sundays. That subtraction leaves you, very neatly, with 40 days.

The Greeks, I believe, start tomorrow – at least, they do if our Easters coincide this year. By that reckoning, Lent ends on Maundy Thursday and the following tridium – Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter Sunday – is in a category by itself.


I am sure you are right, Shandy, that C. needs distraction from the fear of death. I wonder if the fear is worse because she is not in pain. Toothache does concentrate the mind on itself.

Would one be able to knit? I hope so, but I find it impossible to imagine myself in C.’s situation, although it awaits me, in some form or other, in the relatively near future (I will soon be 78). I hope some of you know my favourite episode of Frasier, where all the characters – including Ros, whose excuse for being there I have forgotten – sit about Frasier’s apartment talking of death.

The only line I can actually remember is when Niles expresses his fear that death may turn out to be like school, and none of the really cool dead people will want to hang out with him. The brilliance of the scene, however, is that it brings briefly to the surface something that we all think about quite a bit but rarely mention.

At the end there is a “ping” from the kitchen and Daphne remembers that she has some cookies in the oven. Everybody has some, dipped in milk. I suspect it’s the only answer.

I would hope to be able to knit (socks, which have completely relieved me of the fear of flying in recent years); and to welcome Radio Four wittering on even if I couldn’t concentrate on what they were saying; and, if not to read coherently, at least to read a paragraph or two in a well-loved book and then lie back and think about it. Pride and Prejudice, The Leopard, Middlemarch, Put Out More Flags. The Leopard, I think, above all.

That’s a lot to ask for.

But here’s an encouraging anecdote. I must, alas, suppress names – your comment yesterday, Wren, demonstrates why. You never know who’s listening, and I don’t want to hurt anybody's feelings.

We had a friend – most of us could replicate the story – who got breast cancer, got treated, had several years of remission, got it again, died. During the final phase she was visited one evening by a good friend who is a well-known novelist and who gave her the latest book. When they were alone, she complained furiously to her husband (who relayed the tale to me in a letter not long after she died): “I’ve got six months to live and I haven’t finished Henry James. How can D. think that I’ve got time to read his book?”


  1. rosesmama2:21 PM

    My reading of literature has slowed while I have a young child, but I certainly hope to pick up many classics when I have time. Your musings remind me that The Leopard has been recommended many times, and a copy sits unread on my shelf. If it is the one book you would reread in your last days, I will make sure to get it down soon. Thank you for the reminder.

  2. Of course, one imagines what one might do in one's present state of mind, but even the means of pain relief might remove the ability to focus, even if one had been spared the various forms of dementia.
    I have found Alan Bennett's collections a great comfort in times of trouble, but then I was not the one afflicted.

  3. skeindalous6:44 PM

    I have been thinking about something you said some weeks ago...about passages and quotations that one holds to in times of crisis or testing, or, in times of joy and happiness. There is firstly the Bible, with the obvious 'Who shall seperate us from the love of Christ?...neither death nor life...nor anything else in all creation' (Romans 8:35ff). And Shakespeare, my favorite in this case being from Hamlet: 'If it be now, 'tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come—the readiness is all.' It would be most intersting to hear the choices of others.

  4. Out of all the books you mention I find myself embarrassed to realize I have only read one- Pride and Prejudice. The others are being added to my reading list. Now to find the time to get to them. I was a voracious reader before the internet entered my life.

    Socks have been my fear of flying cure as well. I am almost a calm traveler. Almost.

  5. Grief is unpredictable: the one thing we can count on is that progress is made over time, particularly if a person is let to feel their feelings. I think preparing for death is very much a repetitive and progressive letting-go - a gradual drawing-away from the temporal life and the people you are leaving, and a gradual drawing-towards the eternal. Loneliness seems to be par for the course.

    Poor C.

  6. I feel for C. When I was 14 I had major surgery to correct my jaw, which meant breaking it in three places, many metal plates in the bone, mouth wired shut to heal and a week in the hospital. I remember that during the week I was in the most pain (and thus on the most painkillers- morphine I believe) I could do nothing and enjoy nothing. Reading was impossible (and I loved to read), watching TV or listening to music was impossible, playing video games- etc-- I just could not entertain myself, and I was miserable. Until a friend brought me a coloring book and a large box of crayons, I was so bored and spaced out and cranky-- but the coloring book. I remember that being a huge blessing. I filled its pages in two days, and my friend and her mother came back with several more and a large pad of art paper. All I did was draw and color (although those are two things I rarely ever do-- an artist I am not.) but it was all I could do... and that's that I was not seriously ill like C- I knew I would recover, but the pain in my jaw and the medications for pain, dulled everything. Besides coloring, the only other thing that helped was the presence of my two cats (once I was home.) I was laid up in my room in pain, and when I got too tired to do anything at all I would just lay with a cat in my arms purring, and that brought great comfort.

    So I understand- I was anxious and nervous too during that time despite being so doped up. I am sorry for C and I hope she can find something to give her happiness and help spend the time.