Friday, August 19, 2005

Dignity

The father of a friend of mine was diagnosed with terminal cancer a few months back and is now moving into a hospice to make whatever time he has left as comfortable as possible. I haven't seen her dad since we shared a flat nearly twenty years ago, but I remember him at that time as being a big man in every respect - a very dignified, upright sort of man - and I had been thinking how terrible it would be for my friend to see him become somehow less than he was, as the illness really took hold.

Speaking to her last week though, she said that it wasn't like that at all. Her dad has very deeply held religious beliefs and she said that - for him - this period at the end of his life was simply a matter of 'completing his journey home'. He's apparently content within himself and in what is happening to him and remains rock solid in his faith.

As an atheist I generally tend to point people to Douglas Adams' explanation of his atheism when asked why I don't believe in God - it's not that I believe there is no God, but that I'm convinced of the fact, in the same way I'm convinced that today is Friday or whatever other mundane fact you care to mention.

And yet, it must be an enormous comfort to the family to see someone they love slipping away so at peace with themselves and so unafraid of what lies ahead. And for my friend's dad the security of knowing that everything is as it should be and that the future is not something to fear must be a wonderful strength upon which to lean for support.

There is a type of dignity in this which currently eludes me and which I can't really understand, but which leaves me profoundly moved nonetheless.
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