LETTER: Friend says final farewell with dignity

During a serene performance at the recently sold out concert by organist Jenny Vincent and harpist Janelle Nadeau, my thoughts wandered off to my friend Albert. Al, as he was known to his friends, was 90 when his sojourn on this Earth came to an arranged end just before Christmas.

We met through various choirs a few decades ago, he had a powerful bass voice, sang solo, opera and proudly sent me a snapshot of him fronting Carnegie Hall, performing with his choir last year. Interesting life: a performing hypnotist, member of the British Secret Service, a drummer also. He even composed a march which was performed by a U.K. Military Band.

In September when he told me his health was failing; breathing problems. Just before Christmas I dropped by with the usual card and chocolate letter gift with his initial (a Dutch tradition for St. Nicholas on Dec. 5). He was thin, labouring and on a life-extending oxygen tube. He had pulmonary fibrosis, he told me, causing great discomfort, as well as an inoperable aneurism. He did not complain but was resolute, clear of mind and determined to cross over to the other side with dignity, and on his terms.

He was ready after talking with his Dr.’s and his Trustee. We comfortably chatted for an hour or so.

I was acquainted with the concept of medically assisted death, had listened to debates and seen it carried out. And who am I to pass moral judgement on what other people are comfortable with? Only those who walk in their shoes will understand the path they are taking. I was struck by his delicate display of dignity, so courageous, so devoid of any fear because, as he said, he was at peace. Above all, he was thankful for the life he lived. Deaths (160,000 a day) and births (350,000 a day) are part of life. Death releases the Soul like a butterfly emerges from its cocoon. Imagine you are standing on the shore waving goodbye to your loved one as the ship moves away from the shore, where we were welcomed when we arrived when born. You wave for as long as you can see the ship, on arrival to the other shore those who went before us are waving in welcome. We said bye, knowing that it would be our final goodbye. We hugged and burst out laughing as I am 6-foot-6 and Al was 5-2. Memories will always be in our hearts.

And yes, it is better to give flowers in a vase than lay them horizontally.

Paul Reitsma


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