Last week I attended someone’s funeral service. To be honest, it was someone I barely knew- just more of a nodding acquaintance at church. But I went along because I knew of her impact on people, how loved she was and I don't know, I just felt a need to be there. It was fully packed in the church as you might expect and the service found the right balance between ‘saying goodbye’ and being a fitting memorial to someone’s life.
What struck me though was how short a life ‘Sal’ had. She died before she was 50 which I think is a really young age, although she seemed to achieve an awful lot in that time span- friends and families who adored her, pupils who were inspired by her and people from a distance (like me) who admired her.
I’ve written previously about how on average we live much longer than people did in the past, but the number of premature deaths does still shock. Early deaths reported in just the last few days have included actress Angharad Rees (63), ex-MP Marsha Singh (57) and ex Chief Executive of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) Jackie Orme (just 46).
Trying to make sense of such pointlessly early deaths is really difficult – whether you have a religious or spiritual faith or belief or not - although I do think such a faith can help you come to terms with and try to understand such a loss. Losing someone at such an age can really make you feel insecure about life and question your whole approach to it- if someone can get ‘struck down’ whilst in the midst of life, what is the point of it all? How do you respond or change your outlook if that is needed?
Someone who I think has hit the nail quite closely on the head is Bernie Taupin, probably best known as the long time lyricist to Elton John. On the ‘Blues Never Fade Away’ track from their ‘The Captain and the Kid’ album (2006) Taupin laments such losses:
“She was 21 with her life ahead, you don’t know to need her name
She breathed her last on the cold stone floor of a Hollywood arcade
But fate’s right hand isn’t always just, puts a lot of pressure on your faith and trust
She was just a little girl, ain’t that enough to rage against the day?”
His insight into what this means although a tad cynical must strike a familiar note to most of us:
“And how did we get so lucky? Targets on the rifle range
Who makes the call and who gets to choose?
Who gets to win and who gets to lose?”
We may all be ‘targets on the rifle range’ and it can feel very arbitrary whether we live to the age of 90 suffering minor illnesses through our time or if in our 40’s, 50’s or 60’s we have a stroke, a heart attack or get Cancer and our time on earth comes to a premature end.
Yes there are some things we can do to reduce our risk of dying early (eat healthily, take regular exercise, choose our parents wisely!) but quite often when such things happen they can seem so unjust or unfair and lead us to ‘rage against the day’, and that attitude needs carefully handling.
As I say, there are no answers in this area- although I am a great believer in your faith or personal philosophy about Life making a big difference about how you view such events. Like ‘Sal’, when such serious illness comes, you just have to deal with what is, Pray if you believe, and trust that the medical profession can play their part in extending your life.