MOLLY CARLILE AM
Death talker, palliative care activist; Australia
When the Present has latched its postern behind my tremulous stay,
And the May month flaps its glad green leaves like wings,
Delicate-filmed as new-spun silk, will the neighbours say,
‘He was a man who used to notice such things’?
If it be in the dusk when, like an eyelid’s soundless blink,
The dewfall-hawk comes crossing the shades to alight
Upon the wind-warped upland thorn, a gazer may think,
‘To him this must have been a familiar sight.’
If I pass during some nocturnal blackness, mothy and warm,
When the hedgehog travels furtively over the lawn,
One may say, ‘He strove that such innocent creatures should come to no harm,
But he could do little for them; and now he is gone.’
If, when hearing that I have been stilled at last, they stand at the door,
Watching the full-starred heavens that winter sees,
Will this thought rise on those who will meet my face no more,
‘He was one who had an eye for such mysteries’?
And will any say when my bell of quittance is heard in the gloom,
And a crossing breeze cuts a pause in its outrollings,
Till they rise again, as they were a new bell’s boom,
‘He hears it not now, but used to notice such things’?
–Thomas Hardy, Afterwards
I have spent the bulk of my career working with dying and grieving people, teaching others how to sit in personal discomfort in order to support them. Through this, I have an enormous collection of stories, poetry and songs that relate to mortality and the meaning of life. I believe that the arts provide a vehicle for people to speak the ‘unspeakable’ and express the ‘in-expressible.’
Literary arts in particular give people an opportunity to use the words of others or metaphor to tell their own personal stories about death, grief and loss, when they may not feel comfortable using their own words. My Uncle Robbie introduced me to Thomas Hardy as a first year university student, when he was my English Literature teacher. I discovered Afterwards years later and I’ve treasured it as it has personal resonance for me. What is it that people will remember about me after I’ve died? What is the legacy I will leave? What will I miss about the world of my life experience? I read it to my uncle earlier this year, hours before he died and again at his funeral. It is a poem that links us still. Master and pupil.
Despite the obvious ‘Englishness’ of Hardy’s work, the pictures he paints with words have both a comforting and empowering effect when I read them. This poem ‘holds’ me. Though some consider it melancholy, I find it affirming. I want people to miss me when I’ve died. I want the people I love to see something beautiful and think of me. I want to be embedded in the environment that continues beyond my life in a way that leaves a lasting presence.
I am not scared of death; I have been surrounded by it my whole adult life. What I want to ensure is that my life has been meaningful. That I leave behind a legacy for future generations. That somehow the years I have spent in this earthly existence have had a purpose. For me that purpose is to change community attitudes to death and grief. To improve death literacy so that dying and grieving people get the validation and support they so often do without. If I can change that, I will be happy.
Of course from a purely personal perspective, I want the people I love to think of me often and with fondness. Maybe they might say, ‘She was one who had an eye for such mysteries?’
‘Deathtalker’ Molly Carlile is a multi-award winning nursing and palliative care leader and is Chief Executive Officer of South East Palliative Care in Victoria, Australia. Presenter, author snd playwright, she is a champion for using the arts to engage people in conversations about life and death. Molly is an Ambassador for Dying to Know Day. (www.deathtalker.com)
 Hardy, T. (1917) ‘Afterwards’ in Moments of Vision and Miscellaneous Verses. London: McMillan, p.260.