The Loved One

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I do not remember much of Evelyn Waugh’s satirical novel “The Loved One,”. To those who know me this is not news. First I read the book over sixty years ago. Secondly most who know me, know as someone who regularly misuses names. “Howard would you hold this please.” When the name I should have used was, Frank – who was working with me. It is a family thing to mix names I say. That is because Grandma alway did it. “Bruce, Ian, Paul she would say until she arrived at the name she needed. Ron.”

As an adolescent the plot of the book didn’t resonate with me as did the explanation of what happened to the bodies that entered “Whispering Glades”, the funeral home. The manner in which the dead were prepared for everlasting life as beautiful specimens of themselves as possible has especially remained forever with me. The notion of the dead being falsely preserved seemed strange when we never saw the dead.

What happens in America, or in your pcorner of the world is bound to be different when it comes to loving your deceased. Here, first, is a personal recollection of my experiences.

It was only, many years later when I joined the big Vagg clan I came face to face with my first corpse. In those far off days it was a family practice for the body to reverently reside in the parlour of the family home in the days before the funeral. Prayers were recited in the room, and the body lay in an open coffin. After prayers, visitors would spend a few minutes in contemplation with the deceased. A day or two later a mass was said and the body committed to the earth.

As the years rolled by the ceremony changed. The body remained in the funeral director’s care until it was required at the church. The body arrived at the church in a closed coffin. Nearly always it remained that way and people lost touch with the sight of a cadaver. Death was left to the professionals and the only members of the congregation who did have a viewing were the immediate family – if that was their wish. Otherwise no one did.

Almost as invisibly funerals have shifted further to become products of big business. Once they were exclusively church affairs – somewhere in the past couple of decades the church has given way to the funeral chapel. Just as the grave has given way to the invisible cremation. In the past in my circle, the coffin left after the ceremony of the church for the graveyard. Family and friends gathered around the grave and after prayers the body was committed to the ground and buried. Hundreds of generations of my ancestors rest where they were placed just like this. Now, in a funeral home a curtain is closed and the casket is whisked away to the crematorium for cremation.

Funerals have become a commercial business. The country’s largest business in Australia is Invocare. This is an American conglomerate with literally dozens of once familiar local business names. (I am cynical about them if I am honest. I do not think death is a product to be exploited by business). Here I recite some of the practices business has been known to exploit – without reference to any particular model.

One company is know to ship multiple caskets to the cheapest under-utilised crematorium even if they are shipped hundreds of kilometres. Once processed the ashes are redistributed to the director’s place of choice giving the funeral director another chance to benefit from the grieving family.

The operators are ruthless profiteers, clipping the ticket of the grieving relatives: for celebrants, cars, flowers, music, caskets ( you wouldn’t want your dad to be sent off in a cardboard box so if you step inside we can show you a gold, bronze or an aluminium casket. If this is beyond your means – (why would it be. – Dad left you some money didn’t he?) we have Mahogany, Blackwood – with a lovely grain, Pine, or (heaven forbid) processed Craftwood. (The slick-sell can last for hours, but don’t worry, We will look after your Dad as if he was our own.

The truth is, over the years we have removed death from the process of life. We don’t even say Dad has died. We lie and refer to him as “In a better place.” “Passed”. Crudely you might read he is Deceased, because we seem to prefer euphemisms to Dead.

People live. People die. I will die. That is the nature of things. In 2020 we have all become aware death happens. It happens suddenly and without warning in a pandemic, and we do not like it. The media is consumed by it. Governments around the world are hiding behind the words of the epidemiology teams that project if we do not do this: close businesses, stop movement, limit traffic, bring in lockdowns, our hospitals will become overcrowded and more people will die.

People have always died. For democracy a dying constituent is no good. So leaders have given way to science and created fear in their communities. Yet the virus kills. Bacteria kills. Stupidly viruses and bacteria spend their whole lives trying to kill their hosts. Just as we people stupidly over consume and kill our planet. Yet when it comes to the planet we ignore science and kill it anyway.

Grim isn’t it? So too are the predictions of philosopher Byung-Chun Han who posits COVID -19 is probably not a good omen for Europe and the USA. “The virus is a physical test. Asian countries, which think little of liberalism, got a grip on the pandemic quite early.” He continued , “The virus is a mirror. It shows what society we live in.”

In his opinion, COVID – 19 shows we live in a second class society because COVID- 19 is not conducive to democracy. It has left the poor to their own devices. We have inadequate hospitals for them. “The pandemic is therefore not only a medical problem, but also a social one.”

“Faced with the shock of the pandemic, the west will be forced to give up liberal principles” and choose strong autocratic leaders.

He even observes it has killed religion. (People) “ totally sacrifice faith for survival. Everyone is listening to virologists who have absolute sovereignty of interpretation. In the face of the virus religious belief generates into farce.” Further he observes, “And our Pope Francis? St Francis has hugged lepers.” We are left to assume Pope Francis has to be cosseted to remain safe.

He is asked a question on everyone’s lips, “Is COVID – 19 a mortal wound for globalisation ?”

In his answer he observes, “We no longer do business for people, but for capital.” He continues, “We freely exploit ourselves in the belief we are fulfilling ourselves. But in reality we are servants.”

Now, Byung-Chun Han suggests the winner from the Pandemic is more likely to be China than is to be the West. It already seems apparent, the virus is forcing people to re-examine the neo-liberal ethos forced upon us for the last forty years. Small government has been a bane on our development by demolishing civic organisations in the belief life will be better if more is left to commercial operators because civil servants cannot work as efficiently. Clearly it did and it can again.

Tony Abbot. (Oh it hurts to write the name of our former prime minister but there – I have). Tony Abbot suggested the world had gone mad locking down business when we should just let the virus rip. Sure the elderly will die, he said, but the pain caused to the economy when they live an extra month or year is too expensive to the economy.

These paraphrased words are similar to the arguments used by Byung-Chun Han in his treatise. The cost of saving the elderly is extravagant when their lives are so costly. (My words are not exactly his). The average life expectation in Germany (he lives in Germany) is 80.5 and the average age of the German Covid-19 cases is 80 or 81.

Written, as these words are, in the sunset years of my life, life is good, yet I am as uncertain as you when it will end. I do not want COVID but neither should you. This does not mean either of us should live fearfully, but was Princess Dianna fearful when she met with AIDS sufferers thirty years ago. No? I don’t think so either. We just need to wash our hands. Keep a social distance. And wear a mask.


Coronavirus Thinkers ere.com

For Byung-Chul Han Philosopher

Take a seat.


Image courtesy SMT

Living with good genes you visit your doctor only to replace the medications he has prescribed for daily use, when you have run out. You trust your GP – the pills prescribed; will reduce your cholesterol, replace the hormones your absent thyroid cannot produce, or lower your blood pressure. The proof all is well is revealed with a regular blood pressure check – 120/73 at 59 heart beats a minute. Excellent result. Even for a person a quarter of your age. It is all you need to hear before you exchange pleasantries and leave to go about your daily business.

With no comprehension of Greys Anatomy, or understanding of pharmacology, you trust the diagnosis your GP advises. Even he may not decide your the treatment for every ailment from a conversation. Most likely your GP will order blood tests to confirm the diagnosis gleaned from careful questioning. She may recommend you visit a specialist before ever a diagnosis is reached.

Not every visit is conducted with such routine rhythm – but you hear things.

Today your primary carer will reserve opinion until all channels are exhausted. This is as good – as it is bad. Specialisation can become misleading unless the specialist keeps a clear mind – the whole person needs treatment, and not just a specific disease found in part of the body.

The life of the doctor is most certainly fraught. This is especially so in this Internet age. Lots of people visit a doctor after first making inquiry of Dr Google. Your friends are often more knowing (not knowledgeable) than the doctor, and hypochondria is very common among those friends who make weekly visits with yet another complaint.

This is not to condemn them. How one feels can be misleading. Too often an acquaintance has died because they ignored symptoms other people acknowledged. One person says “I feel this,” The other says nothing. The first has a diagnosis, a treatment, a short, or a long painful – convalesce, and they are cured. The second, dies, or worse – is given a prognosis and dies shortly afterwards. The difference in their lives is sometimes a matter of how they think of the medical profession.

Currently the conversation is about pain. The press is full of the dangers of opioid and other drugs prescribed for pain. Codeine, Fentanyl, OxyContin form part of the list of products which pain sufferers are very familiar. Word has it that these drugs can be habit forming, just as morphine – first discovered in 1803, is known to be.

Tragically many lives have been lost by sufferers of long term pain. Their treatment caused them to become addicted to their treatment. In time the drug becomes more necessary to them than the pain it was prescribed to aid. It has reached a stage of alarm across the developed world.

The level of pain individuals can accommodate varies from person to person. The truth is few men would be able to live with the pain of child birth. It remains one life’s mysteries how women naturally live through confinement. But not all pain is equal.

From my own experience I have learned how easy it could be to slip into addiction. Many decades ago I visited Dr Bill Davies, (the doctor that was present at the birth of out children). On this occasion I had to wait for a long time outside his rooms. Every minute I waited the second hand of the clock scraped against its body on its journey and it screeched at the five o’clock mark. “Screech screech”.

I do not remember why I had made the appointment, just the noise the clock made every sixty seconds. perhaps I talked about to him about my jumpy legs. (My wife will tell of how I kick her nightly as I am going off to sleep. I have done this for years). Anyway, when I got to see him I said I couldn’t live with such an irritating clock. He looked quizzically at me and wrote out a prescription. This I took to the chemist, and in time I started taking Valium.

The prescription had five repeats. After about the third I mentioned I was taking diazepam, and the listener said it was addictive. Instead of taking pills I should read Dr Ainsley Meares 1968 book, Relief without drugs. I did. However I had a strong feeling of wanting something despite knowing the drowsiness I felt from was caused by the Valium. So I read it again and practiced what it said.

Fortunately I persevered with the techniques recommended by the book and I stopped taking Valium before I fell into its grip. The technique explained in the book is now recommended as Mindfulness training by professional groups. This is not news to Buddhists of course. It is just one of the practical parts of their practice.

Another aspect of the “Relief without drugs” book is the knowledge it is possible to retrain the brain to think differently. Interestingly this is now a recommended pain relief action. This has lead to whole new field of pain management. One I am convinced I must turn to with renewed energy and retrain my brain for practical reasons.

One grapples with pain. When, like now, I have remained in one position too long. One winches with the odd ache before moving freely. The relative influence of pain comes and goes. The arthritis that was causing pain in my finger knuckles a few months ago is now so bad my right hand constantly aches. The truth is I am losing the use of my right hand because of pain. To the point I try to avoid using it. Past experience has taught me not to rely on medication for things you can set aside with training. My brain is being retrained not to complain about an aching hand.

My message from all this? What happens next is up to me.


What is said today about opioids

https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/medication-treatments-led-to-80-percent-lower-risk-of-fatal-overdose-for-patients-with-opioid-use-disorder-than-medication-free-treatments-301011220.html


Dr Ainsley Meares was a Melbourne psychiatrist. He learned about pain and how injured soldiers reacted to it in WW11. The photo is of a memorial to him. Co SMT

I don’t mind if you pause before you leave and read some more, or you make a comment. Thank you for reading this.

An haiku sextet on a theme

Credits. Devlin boats

Jelly Fish

In February

Blue bottles tease wave surfers

Riding last warm breaks


Lemon Pud

Warm lemon sago

Cooked as tapioca

Our staple dessert


Privacy Please

Frosted front doors hide

The intent of residents

No need for coyness


Power Usage

Darkened hallway lit

Daylight hours by skylight saves

electricity


Age

Inactive old blood

And elastin less skin veils none

Of the life well lived.


Gems

Never girls best friend

Sardonyx will open the eyes

asking less young lassie


These lines are written on the same theme. Fat fingers (mine) have eliminated them from a competition. The enjoyment I had on writing them is why I have posted them here.

Thank you for reading this far. Now let me know what you thought.

Coup d’oeil

Fifty-five years wed

The bride is

Without a shadow turning

Troubled by ocular tears

Today she was pumped

With a nostrum used

To curb the canker

Of colon cancer.

As the needle pricked

Into her orbs it

Fed the chemical used

To shrink capillary motions.

We trust the ophthalmologist

Knows the body

As the macular

Sees not – the colon.

It is confusingi

As I age I become more aware merde happens all the time to innocent people. It happens to good people of any age. Horrible as it seems, anything can happen to anyone, and it seems it usually hits those who were about to say their life is good.

Long ago I realised my health has been a gift. I do have a little story though. In my case, I was four when I ran in through the front door of the house and by the time I reached the hallway door it slammed shut and I ran into the door knob fracturing my skull. (Not that anyone has ever confirmed officially my skull was broken but it is the way I describe the indentation on the right side of my head.) Apart from a visit to the vet surgery across the road, and the clever advice my mother accepted that it would be better if I was treated at the hospital, it has been of no bother to me accept it is a bother to my hairdressers. That was until I turned fifty three and I commenced drug treatment for a stroke.

Some thirteen years later I had a month or so of TIA s. These temporary blood blocks would starve my brain for a second or two, and I would lose track of what I was doing. I cannot describe now the occasional trouble it caused me except for these examples. The first time I became aware I had no idea of what I was doing I was in Stabby’s butchery.

Before I left home I had grabbed a handful of coins as I had no notes in my wallet. My meat purchases came to say, $8. I reached into my pocket and started to count the coins. I got worried because I only had half as much as I needed in my hand, but I handed to to Gordon and told him I would return later with the remainder. Instead of agreeing he started to hand me back some of the cash, saying I was overpaying him. I was further confused. I took the cash and the meat and realised I was counting $2 coins as 20 cents. On the second occasion I was trying to learn the script of a play I was scheduled to appear in. Try as I might I couldn’t remember more than one line. With the aid of the playwright I was allowed to read my lines and it didn’t affect the play.

With luck by my side these events happened long ago without lasting effects. In the last case I found the remedy after another brain scan, and a change of medication.

Brains hadn’t figured at all in my life again until I learned a couple of my friends are headed the way of the Hungarian, the politician’s wife, and the bishops. All these people have died with Alzheimers condition.

In the case of “Celery” (my wife’s nickname for Cecilia) it has been a total shock. This woman has been a wonderful caring teacher, she remains, the devoted wife of a friend even though she is now in a nursing home. Sadly she can no longer respond to the frivolous nickname as she did years ago.

In the case of the biker, the disease has not yet progressed as far. A recent meeting with him reminded me of the confused lesson the Hungarian gave me on cheese making. It was purposeful but inconclusive, and didn’t result in cheese. A little while later he was in care and unable to recognise me. The biker is now fighting the disease walking everywhere.

The journey these families are on is too familiar to me. The results of the illness is not at all like forgetting your PIN number, or what you have to do later. Neither is it forgetting to put money in the parking meter. In time it will progress until the very purpose of the meter is forgotten. A comparison in this digital ages is to compare it to the slow destruction of your computer’s hard drive.

My thoughts are with my friends. This is my chance to thank them for the richness they have added to my life.