Sunday, April 03, 2005

The sad death of the Holy Father this weekend showed how he was in control right until the end. Previously popes were always said to be well right up until they were dead. But John Paul II wore his ailments with pride and his handling of his last few days was also intended to teach an important lesson.

When old people die they are expected to do so in private without disturbing the peace of mind of the rest of us. Shut away in hospices, the final days of incontinence, feeding tubes, organ failure and infection can all take place without anyone else having to worry about it. Then the undertakers move in and illusion of a serene passing is maintained. Life and death are not like that. John Paul II was not going to let us imagine some beatific vision of a saint passing on (although some of the media did try to cling to this image). Rather the Vatican's health bulletins pulled no punches and every detail of the last days of a dying man was starkly public. This, he said to us, is how we die and no amount of trying to ignore it will change that. Only faith can offer us hope beyond a dreary end in a hospice with a crowd of relatives wishing we would just hurry up and get on with it.

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