KAMPALA —At the cusp of 2017 at the faculty, we deigned to be innovative by thinking of new courses that would interest a handsome figure of students; we jestingly proposed a course entitled “Dying and Death”. We laughed about it and left it at that, for it sounded palpably absurd then. With a wisdom offered by hindsight I believe we should have gone on ahead; we duly need this course, albeit with a different title – something in the line of thanatology. Can we learn to die, understand death, or teach others to die well? It seems that incipient mortality, though less easy to predict than incipient nativity, is equally a proper matter for preparation and study. Truly, we can never make friends with death. It challenges us beyond words as we experience it in the throes of this pandemic.
There is no experience that forces even the most unphilosophic among us into philosophizing – thinking deeply and trying to figure out what death means and what happens to our loved ones when they cross over. Not that it is entirely irrational to fear death. Whatever we believe is to come after death, the loss of so many of the things that we prize and value must be painful, and since our own death gives grief to others it is natural that we feel sad on their behalf.
It is normal that we grieve and seek help to move from denial through the stages of grief to healthy acceptance – this has been our journey in the last few months and it has been for so many people world over.
About death, it is mostly the sense of someone you know very well fading away into another state you know nothing about…or you do, but only by faith. For it is true that death cannot be experienced by us because it is the cessation of experience… death is not lived through for one to tell its tale! My deepest pain in my recent bereavement was firstly around the powerlessness that you experience in not being able to turn the events around, or even to dally them a little, to hear from your dying relation or friend and to be assured that she feels your closeness, love, support, and prayers; the sense of missing those most phenomenal last words and not knowing what your loved one does feel at that particular point.
In this case, I could not fathom someone I talked to each single day slipping away to a place I had no access to – I abysmally lost! I was so much distraught by the fact that when you are ill, someone else has to make the most important decisions for you and would answer all the pertinent questions on your part. At this point your feelings, wishes, and opinions – the right to be heard all take to flight.
I felt a sense of shame that I could not save our sister and friend. I could not mitigate the agony I knew we were all going through, the agony we associate with dying; a gasping for air, a heaving chest, a stillness of limbs, the sound of machines, the smell of chemicals, the panicking medics around the scene, the silent consultations behind closed doors, and more. Most perplexing to me was also the fact that a mere invisible and invincible creature snatches our loved one away in a gradual process of weakening, sickening, breathlessness and self-surrender, far from everyone who would try to whisper any type of goodbye or consoling words that would help one riding on the last minutes of life – so I think. You love life and you know your loved one treasured life as much, and now s/he has had to let go… without choice, no means to hang on! It is the final journey of faith to all we have lived for; the loving presence of our creator.
On one hand, my experience of loss was partly lined by warm gratuitous feelings towards the medical personnel who displayed high professionalism despite their own fears of contracting COVID 19. I was informed by those that went close to the intensive care unit that the doctors around our patient knew exactly how to keep the human factor aloft in every single procedure they carried out.
They took a moment off to explain and talk to the relatives and caretakers of the patient, even as they preoccupied themselves with the heart rate, pulse, electrocardiogram or pulmonary functions at a delicate pace. Their empathy was saintly. As we mourn and grieve, we are strengthened by our faith and the firm hope that our beloved are at peace and in a better place where we shall find them, as we too are drawn to meet our loving father.
May all our departed sisters and brothers, friends, and parents, rest in his glory. And may all those on the grieving journey find solace and healing in the so many friends always ready to carry us through when we are at our weakest.
Sr. Solome Najjuka
Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences