Grasping for Ritual
Yesterday, CBC published this narrative piece by Nellwyn Lampert in which she reflects on the toll that her grandmother’s euthanasia death took on her.
Lampert recounts how her husband poured some wine for her as they sat in the living room anticipating her grandmother’s death in a nearby hospital scheduled for 5 p.m.
It is chilling.
Reportedly, Lampert’s grandmother did not allow anyone except her son to be at the bedside because, “she wanted to be remembered as she had been in life: strong and independent.”
And so, the idea was that the family would convene at 6:30 p.m. to reminisce about their loved one. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Lampert admitted, “I took comfort in this plan, but I still felt lost.”
To pass the time between the euthanasia death and family gathering, Lampert decided to watch The Lord of the Rings.
And so, I wondered if she watched the first movie when Gandalf and Frodo are in the Mines of Moria when Frodo said:
“Frodo: ‘It’s a pity Bilbo didn’t kill Gollum when he had the chance.’ Gandalf: ‘Pity? It’s a pity that stayed Bilbo’s hand. Many that live deserve death. Some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them, Frodo? Do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. Even the very wise cannot see all ends. My heart tells me that Gollum has some part to play in it, for good or evil, before this is over. The pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many.’”
Or did she watch the second Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers when Frodo and Sam have been driven to the end of their endurance.
Frodo: I can’t do this, Sam…
Sam: I know! It’s all wrong! By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad happened. But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something. Even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didn’t. Because they were holding on to something.
Frodo: What are we holding on to, Sam?
Sam: That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.
Or maybe she watched the very end of the third movie, The Return of the King, and thought about how Sam was with Frodo to the bitter end and even when he couldn’t remember the Shire anymore or the taste of strawberries, Sam was there to carry him to the end.
Whichever movie she watched of the Lord of the Rings, it must have filled her with cognitive dissonance. Her grandmother was choosing to die, before her story was finished. And all of Tolkien is shot through with the importance of stories and of not stepping out of the overarching story before your natural end, because even the wise cannot see the part we are to play.
As I read her story, I thought about how we devalue and cheat ourselves and others when we entertain facilitating premature endings to the dramas of our lives. In truth, we know the opportunity to carry someone up that final mountain can make all the difference to the story. And it’s worth fighting for.
This post first appeared in Vital Bylines. Sign up below to receive Vital Bylines weekly.