But now shrinks the place where you stand: Where now, stripped by shade, will you go? — Paul Celan

Reflections on All Souls Day


— First draft: All Souls Day 2022. Published: 14 March 2023.

In his novel ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being,’ Milan Kundera observes that animals don’t have many advantages over human beings but they have one: euthanasia is not illegal for them.

I remember an evening from two decades ago. It was All Souls Day and I was listening to a beautiful Latin mass accompanied by the organ at the Cathedral of Ely near Cambridge. A light mist suffused the heights of the great cathedral to the music of the organ as I watched the faithful partake in the sacred ritual of eating the host and drinking from the chalice.

I remember the drive back to Cambridge from Ely that night with the stars sparkling like large rocks against a deep blue sky.

Several weeks ago, my dear friends and I lost a puppy. My friend had found her passed out on the street and had rescued and we all fell in love with her thirst for life. I lovingly named her Papita. But soon she started showing signs of severe epilepsy. The medication gave temporary relief, and in the end, she died as my friend Pinky rushed her to the animal hospital to see if there was any way to save her. The night before she all stayed up all night holding Papita as she had recurrent seizures.

Almost three years ago when my cat Sparky was in the last throes of his death, I was desperately fiddling with the saline that I thought would revive him. Similarly when my mother was dying last year, I was running across the neighbourhood from pharmacy to pharmacy to see if they had the injection that would stabilize her heart.

A month or so before my mother’s death I suddenly found my fourteen-year-old cat Chaka very ill. That day I had to go to the hospital where my mother was critically ill and so again it was my friend Pinky who took Chaka to the vet where he died in her arms. I still can’t get over the fact that I wasn’t there when my beloved Chaka breathed his last.

So many of our beloved’s last moments are spent with us running around trying to revive them. So much of it is spent in a futile fight against death.

Why do we so desperately want to prolong life? Isn’t it meaningless? Jiménez once said, ‘More time is not more eternity.’ Yet foolishly we want to wring out one more moment with our loved ones. Wouldn’t it have been better if instead we accepted the inevitable and hugged them in their last moments? Would it not be better if we let go of the meaningless guilt that would only ensure a brief continuation of their pain?

My ex-girlfriend’s grandfather Brian was wise. He lived alone until he was in his late 80s and one day when he was 89 he fell and couldn’t get up anymore. Much to the chagrin of his family, he chose assisted death. (Brian lived in Canada where someone with a terminal condition is allowed to choose assisted death if they are lucid.) I imagine him surrounded by his close loved ones as he breathed his last. Brian had the wisdom of not wanting to extend life by a few more meaningless minutes, days, months or years.

Brian knew that more time was not more eternity.



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