Hold on to What You’ve Got

©2012 Edward C. Lunnon

Tuesday 17 April 2012: 5 years 7 months on … Advantage CBD

Last Sunday was the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the HMS Titanic in the Atlantic Ocean on 15 April 1912. Some 1514 people lost their lives while 710 were saved.

I went to see the 3D version of the movie TITANIC on Sunday evening.

The movie is a dramatised version of the actual events – a mixture of fact and fiction – but is set against the background of actual events and on a set which is, I suppose, as close to the actual ship as one could come today. I have read that in the 3D version even the positions of the stars in the night sky were altered to ensure absolute accuracy of the positioning of the stars on that fateful night!

It leaves the idea in one’s mind that that is what happened and it is difficult to separate the fact from the fiction. I guess the one thing that definitely wasn’t there was Celine Dion singing her version of My Heart Will Go On!

But what was there on that historic night and what lessons can we learn from this disaster?

Please read the blog that I wrote some two years ago entitled “It was a Pleasure Playing with you tonight “.

I said there that hitting the iceberg is like being told you have a terminal illness. The time between the hitting of the iceberg and the sinking of the ship is that time that I live now; the time between the diagnosis of the illness and dying. Different people use that time differently – I said that I would continue partying till the end!

In reality, in the case of the Titanic, there were just more than two and a half hours from the “hit” (at 11h40pm) and the “sink” (at 02h20am).

I was told that I had 5 years, between “hit” and “sink”!

Right now, I am 7 months over that limit.

But it becomes more and more difficult to “continue partying”!

In the movie (and I guess in reality on that fateful night in 1912), the passengers react in disbelief to the news.  In the initial stages, some move to the lifeboats, some stay behind, some party, some drink, some continue sleeping. But as the horror of the spectacle becomes a reality, the more urgency, the more rush, the more uncertainty and the more fear sets in.

 People had to make decisions. Do they go in a lifeboat or do they stay on the sinking ship? Do they hold on to a railing or do they jump into the sea? If they jump, when is the best time to jump? What will happen if they just hold on and go down with the ship?

And all the time, the situation becomes more and more difficult and terrifying. They hold on to whatever is known to them and they cling on to their loved ones – making promises of meeting up “on the other side” when all this horror is over!

Sometimes, as when the stern of the ship breaks off and settles just for a little, it seems like things will get better … maybe it’ll be safe after all?

But, after that brief respite, that part, too, starts sinking and the inevitable must happen. All is in vain … no matter how hard you’ve tried, no matter how hard you’ve hung on, no matter to what lengths you’ve gone to make yourself more comfortable or to prevent your demise.

If you are not in a lifeboat, you are doomed to death!

In life, there are just so many lifeboats. We all know that our lifeboats run out. Eventually, we sink!

But what do we do in those days and moments before we sink?

Who or what do we cling onto? When, if ever, do we let go?

What do we do when the horror of the disease becomes a reality, when the uncertainty and the fear sets in, when the floor starts tilting underneath us, when we just can’t hold on any longer.

I read an article in the newspaper (Weekend Post 10 March 2012) about an “Eastern Cape expat prepares for death with dignity in the US”.

It tells of Dr Peter Goodwin originally from Queenstown, South Africa (some 300km northeast from Port Elizabeth) who now lives in Oregon in the United States.

During the 1990’s he campaigned for what is now known as the “Oregon Death with Dignity Act” which was enacted in 1997. He was one of the few doctors willing to speak publicly in favour of the controversial proposal which allows a patient with a terminal illness the right to administer a drug that will cause his/her death.

During the campaign to bring the act to the ballot, Goodwin said publicly that were he to receive a terminal diagnosis: “I don’t want to go out with a whimper. I want to say goodbye to my wife and kids with dignity. And I would end it. Damn right.”

Ironically, Peter Goodwin, who practised family medicine for more than 50 years, was diagnosed approximately the same time as I was – six years ago – with the same illness that I have – corticalbasal ganglionic degeneration.

He resorted to the internet (like I have) to learn about this rare, progressive brain disorder that robs you of movement. There is no treatment and no cure, and his prognosis: six to eight years.

Today, he has been told that he has less than six months. So sometime soon, when he feels the time has come to let go and the disease permitting, the doctor’s failing hands will perform a final task:  to bring a glass to his lips and administer the drug that will cause his death.  This is the right that he fought for years to establish.

Goodwin calls this right his most significant legacy. Besides the right to obtain aid in dying, he says, the law’s passage spurred medicine to focus attention on the needs of the dying, with more palliative care and hospice. In 2010 under the Death with Dignity law, 65 people died, the highest number since enactment.

Dr Goodwin reflects about his life of standing face to face with death … of others, and of his own.

“We just haven’t come to terms with the fact that we’re all going to die, and to make concessions to that, is really giving up hope. On the contrary, when at death’s door, the situation needs thought, it doesn’t need hope. It needs planning, it doesn’t need hope. Hope is too ephemeral at that time.”

Terminally ill patients say they would know when the time would come to exercise their right. Goodwin says that he can already see the window closing and, therefore, he has obtained the drugs to end his life.

“Life is unfair!” he thinks, but he has a prescription to offer to treat that condition:

“Be fulfilled. Be happy with yourself. Recognize achievements and be proud of them. Then go on to further achievements. Know what you want to do and do it. Be happy. Know good friends. Be in love.”

So, what do you, the readers, think?

Just how long should a terminally ill patient hold on? Is it wrong to let go? Is it wrong to give up hope? Is it wrong to hasten the fact that we are all going to die?

Was it wrong for some of the Titanic passengers to jump into that icy cold water, or to let go of the railings, or to decide not to make use of a lifeboat?

In the 3D version of the movie, as the stern of Titanic lifts to almost 90 degrees and then quickly sinks into the dark depths, the viewer gets the impression that you are right there holding onto the back railing of the ship together with Rose and Jack, staring down at the cold, black sea way down below you.

Should one hold onto the railings until the bitter end … whilst there is still some glimmer of hope? Or do you give up hope, and jump?


4 comments on “Hold on to What You’ve Got

  1. My divine guidance for what it is worth, has taught me; 1] Our life is in the hands of the Almighty God – nobody has the right to take a life other than Him. 2] I have ABSOLUTE love and sympathy for those who have pain and suffering – He did too and lost His life in a gruesome way. May God bless and comfort you, amen

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