I have got my leave. Bid me farewell, my brothers!
I bow to you all and take my departure.
Here I give back the keys of my door – and I give up all claims to my house.
I ask only for last kind words from you.
We were neighbours for so long, but I received more than I could give.
Now the day has dawned and the lamp that lit my dark corner is out.
A summons has come, and I am ready for my journey.
Rabindranath Tagore – from Gitenjali XCIII
On Death, and Dying.
In the last weeks of his life, my father suffered a fall and fracture of the femur that was repaired, but left him unable to walk. His heart had gradually been failing for some time, and he was increasingly tired, physically and mentally, struggling to keep going.
One day when I visited him in hospital, he looked at me in despair and said, “I can’t do this anymore.”
Perhaps he meant the effort to try to walk again, but I think it was more than that.
Yet on my next visit, he was once again restless and struggling to escape the confines of the hospital.
At home, I remembered that some years previously he had asked me if I had heard of the poems of Rabindanath Tagore, and I gave him a book of Tagore’s poems for his birthday – a slim, rather dry looking book that I did not bother to read at the time.
I looked through his bookshelf, and found the book of Tagore’s poems I had given him so many years previously, now yellowed and speckled with age. There inside the back cover was a photocopy of some pages from Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ book, “On Death and Dying”. It was the chapter titled “Fifth Stage: Acceptance”, and Kubler-Ross had used the above quote from Tagore to introduce the chapter.
I was very moved by this. Something had led me to remember the book, even though I had not realised consciously that these poems were part of a process for my father of coming to terms with his mortality, many years ago when his health and vitality were still strong – yet with age encroaching as a clandestine thief of both.
I took the book of Tagore’s poems to the hospital on my visit next day, and hesitantly asked my father if he would like me to read them to him. He looked bemused at first, but then nodded, lying there with his eyes closed until I finished reading, and paused, wondering if he wanted me to continue or stop and let him rest.
But he opened his eyes and looked at me, and said, “More poems!”
I read most of them to him that day, though none was as pertinent as the very first one on the photocopied extract.
We did not talk about dying, but there was an unspoken connection between us, a silent acceptance of the inevitable end.
My father passed away peacefully a few days later at dawn.
* * * * *
I read Tagore’s poem “I have got my leave” as the committal to end his funeral service.
I think this poem expressed my father’s feelings about his end, as well as any words could.
He wrote a poem himself about the death of his brother Morven in 1980, revealing more of his thoughts and feelings about death and dying.
You can read “My Brother’s Death” here.
Or return to Dr William Dall home page.