Bitter-sweet mystery of life and death

I never cease to marvel at the great mystery of a baby coming into this world. As memory gets packed with so many things, or begins to play tricks, my abiding recollection is the sight of my children being born, the enthusiasm of my wife overriding the pain as she delivered them. Nor do I ever forget the parallel that starts immediately with birth, the inevitability of death. In between we cram our days, which are ours to live though not necessarily always as we think fit.

In one way or another, we all have our fill. Our allotment of happiness and sadness. At times, one is tempted to forget that happiness and sadness, life and death go in pairs. To live the recommendation given by the poet Omar Khayyam, "Unborn tomorrow/dead yesterday/why fret about them if today be sweet". And, yes, there is sense in trying to live for the day, though never at the cost of ever forgetting there will be a tomorrow; that there is an inevitable conclusion to every beginning.

Such thoughts are never far away, the older one gets. Without being morbid, one is increasingly reminded of one's mortality. When, then, death calls nearby, the reminder is stronger. My wife and I lost our fathers many years ago; she was four and I 13. Now, in the space of three months, we lost our mothers as well.

Nina, my mother-in-law, departed a couple of days before Christmas. My mother on Wednesday night.

Both lived to a venerable age. For all of it is hard to believe they are no longer there. Both led an exemplary life, for a lifetime after their husbands departed focusing solely on their children. Both felt death was near. Nina would repeatedly tell us she had little time left. My mother, not feeling at all herself for a while, would tell us that Nina was calling her to join her.

In the end, death seems merciful, but never so much that one wants it to happen. We resign ourselves to it and we find solace that our loved ones are now in deserved eternal rest with their Maker. There are thoughts, too, that help to ease our sense of loss. As I write, a message comes through from a friend telling me that perhaps the only consolation when death collects her subjects is that from now on we can speak to them whenever we wish.

It is a beautiful thought to add to another I always keep in mind. It is to remember what our parents did for us. Never to forget their example. And to recall them not in peaceful death, but alive and alert as parents always are to their children's needs, no matter how old they are. To my mother, at 70 I was still a child as much as I was when a babe in arms. I look back with gratitude. Not only for the love I always received. But for the help, too. Dom Mintoff used to say I was nothing in constituency politics - my mother was everything. On that one, at least, we were in total agreement.

The political personality in Qormi, the village central to my being returned to the House of Representatives five times, was not Lino, but Pauline. She knew everyone there. She worked ceaselessly to promote me and succeeded in doing so notwithstanding my mixture of shyness and abruptness, my inability to be the type of politician people expect one to be.

And she did it all in a style never completely immersed in politics. She wanted my party and me to succeed, of course she did, and she pulled in votes like few other canvassers did. Yet she never did it in a confrontational sense. She laboured and slaved to help out constituents in their myriad needs. But she never suggested to me, or to any other Labour candidate in the years when I was out of politics, to put aside the needs of non-Labourites. She was not simply a positive thinker, but a positive doer.

Mintoff was certainly right. She should have stood for election in my stead. Now she's gone and my wife Vivienne and I, who loved our two parents unreservedly and without distinction as if one was the other's, console each other with the memory of what our mothers had been to us. Both coming from humble workers' families they drilled into us the possibility to achieve.

To my father and mother, the physical difference I was born with was something to be accepted not with resignation, but as a spur. At a time when disability often led to families wishing to hide that simple fact of mysterious Creation, my parents encouraged and taught me not to see myself as anything less than anyone else. At a time when some parents were embarrassed because of children who were less than perfect, mine taught me there were no barriers except those that we put up ourselves.

On Wednesday night we felt a sense of bewilderment that the end had come so swiftly. Nina's exit had dragged on for nearly three weeks. My mother, who gave us a bad fright two months ago but seemed past that, was gone late at night within a couple of hours. Perhaps one should take that as a relief, for there is nothing worse than the pain some experience, like our Nina did, towards the end. Yet the relief is ironical, for one hopes that the end will never come.

But it always does. On this earth that is.


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