I have returned to the work I love, tending to the living as they consider or fail to consider the experience of dying and the reality of death. I feel at home again.
And, as if in a gesture of welcome, I have just read Stoner, by John Williams (1965). It is simple, yet rings true, sad in an ordinary way, a story of the full life of a man searching for love and meaning, and finding his own way to create both out of hard work, honesty, compassion and constant disappointment. It’s a great read. I highly recommend it.
What struck me most deeply in this story was the description at the end of Stoner’s life, as he lays dying. Although I have yet to go through the experience myself, in my life and work, I have often experienced the dying process, and the wonderment of how each person goes through the process. This description is by far the most convincing I have ever read.
The pain came upon him with a suddenness and an urgency that took him unprepared, so that he almost cried out. . . .
It occurred to him that he ought to call Edith; and then he knew that he would not call her. The dying are selfish, he thought; they want their moments to themselves, like children. . . .
And he felt also, with that breath he took, a shifting somewhere deep inside him, a shifting that stopped something and fixed his head so that it would not move. Then it passed, and he thought, so this is what it is like. . . .
He had known that his mind must weaken as his body wasted, but he had been unprepared for the suddenness. The flesh is strong, he thought; stronger than we imagine. It wants always to go on. . . .
What did you expect? he thought again. . . .
What was so remarkable was that it was so easy.
It is this exploration of the dying process that is so missing in our lives, our conversations, our contemplation of what life is about, what the death we each face will mean when our time arrives.