Here’s something to ponder on, today being the feast of Saints John Fisher and Thomas More, two martyrs with Kentish connections: Cardinal Fisher, bishop of Rochester and More, chancellor of England, both fell foul of Henry VIII. The post is taken from a footnote to The Life of Johnson, Volume 5 by James Boswell.
Addison says:—’The end of a man’s life is often compared to the winding up of a well-written play, where the principal persons still act in character, whatever the fate is which they undergo…. That innocent mirth which had been so conspicuous in Sir Thomas More’s life did not forsake him to the last. His death was of a piece with his life. There was nothing in it new, forced, or affected.’ *
Young thought, or at least, wrote differently.
‘A death-bed’s a detector of the heart.
Here tired dissimulation drops her mask.’+
More’s innocent mirth was able to bubble up at his execution in large part because he had been able to prepare himself for this moment, and to approach it fully conscious.
On the other hand, a deathbed may be a scene of agitation for the patient and distressing for witnesses because physical decay impacts upon thought processes and muscular self control. Scenes at the end of life do not necessarily reflect the true state of the principal character; those who lived with the dying person should and will remember many precious, shared moments. And it is to be hoped that the right medical care will make the patient as comfortable as possible, so that they can approach death with serenity.
But let us pray for the grace to be ready to die at any moment, accepting that we will always leave behind plenty of unfinished business.
* The Spectator, No. 349; + Night Thoughts, ii.