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Each weekday over the course of a week, a member of the NCR staff offers a commentary on one or more topics in the news.  It's our way of introducing you to some of the people carrying out the NCR mission of faith and justice based journalism.

May 8, 2003
Vol. 1, No. 24




global perspective Speaking to dying friends

by Arthur Jones, NCR editor at large

I can remember both sets of my grandparents when they were in their 60s -- where I am now. It was the point in their lives when their friends and relatives were beginning to die off at a regular rate.

We'd arrive at my maternal grandmother's front door and her greeting would invariably be: "Alice! (my mother) Who do you think's dead?" Or, if no one was dead -- always a blow to my grandmother who lived to die and talked about dying all her life -- "Who do you think's dying?"

So I early grew up with lots of people dying all the time. And it continued for the next couple of decades. Then a brief lull, and my parents' generation began to die. And another brief lull, and now mine.

The interesting thing about mine at present is that the most recent death and the two friends currently dying of cancer are people of no religious beliefs. Two of the three, one dead, one dying -- were anti-religion in their views if the topic came up.

That dead non-believing friend, a man who read texts in Latin and Greek as a relaxation, known to his colleagues as a "gentle atheist" on the odd occasion we talked religion, was constant in his atheism for more than 60 years.

The other friend, even more deeply learned, once was Catholic. But decades ago he decided it was all a fairy tale. His expressed intention for years was to commit suicide, "top myself off," at 70.

But to his own satisfaction, he now has cancer for which he refuses all treatment, and will let nature do what he would otherwise have done for himself.

What does one say to one's dying friends, or to one who sees death as a personal decision? I call. I always let them know I'm thinking of them, and with affection. I talk as we always talk, and allow the death as part of their life. And I end my conversations as I end my notes to people who aren't dying, too: bestest and blessings. And I keep them in my prayers.

Arthur's Daily Ditty

Soul-watch by phone

On the phone -
At the other end -
The dying friend.
What does one do?
Affection and memories
Filter through -
One expresses great fondness,
And wishes: Á Dieu.

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