by Dr.Moira Borg MD Gestalt Psychotherapist

To Doreen & Jerome – with much love

I have been intrigued by death since I lost my maternal grandmother at the age of 5. As a child I could never understand how a person could suddenly become cold and lifeless and then simply disappear from our lives never to be seen again except for a grainy photo on a white marble slab. When I asked for explanations, I was always told that the deceased had “gone near Jesus” leaving me in an even more bewildered state as to why He just picked people at random and never allowed them to come back even if we cried our hearts out.

As I grew older loss took a particular perspective for me for two reasons.

The first is that becoming a medic at 23 years of age meant that I not only had to face death at a closer range but I was also duty-bound and expected to prevent it. There were times when, especially after witnessing a youngster die of a motor vehicle accident at A&E or a 40 year old father simply melting away in front of my eyes of sudden cardiac death, I just wanted to leave it all behind but in the end my deep love for the profession always won me back. At other times I felt anger, watching people lose their lives to irresponsible lifestyle habits. Every time I felt helpless and humbled by a phenomenon I knew I could never fathom let alone dominate.

I was also losing people close to my heart. Special friends to cancer and senseless incidents, my first niece at birth, my paternal grandmother. Every time I closed each one in a special shrine in my heart and did my best to get on with my life knowing there was nothing else I could do. Every time, I slowly accepted the pain of their loss as a necessary legacy to our experience together and the love we would have shared. This week my heart has two new shrines, one for Doreen, a highly esteemed colleague and Jerome a special patient. Even though both were not an integral part of my daily life, both left an indelible impact on me with their beautiful spirit and especially their outlook on life even when cancer slowly and cruelly eroded them away.

I was particularly struck by something Doreen expressed in her last moments when she said “It is not how many years you live but how you live” (“Għax mhux kemm snin tgħix imma kif tgħix.”). With death at her doorstep Doreen passed on a very deep existential message. That death and life are intertwined. That one is the inevitable outcome of the other and that we can never be in control of when our bell will toll. What we can decide is how we choose to live our life between our first breath and our last.

Doreen and Jerome chose to live their life putting love, commitment and responsibility as their modus vivendi. Doreen, a loving wife, mother, friend and daughter, a dedicated professional who supported so many couples in the inception of their parenthood; Jerome, a promising student and footballer, son, brother and friend. It is this ‘how’ that subsequently shaped their response to their deep suffering, what became an inspiration to so many of us.

This is why their beautiful soul can truly rest in peace.

We can keep their memory alive, and that of many people before them, all of whom embraced this simple but deep life philosophy, by making the same decision ourselves – taking the responsibility to live our life in a way that respects our humanity and that of those around us. Then, like them, in our passing, we can stay alive in the hearts of those whose soul we would have touched.