James A Rutherford Funeral


Try as I might, there are a great many things concerning which I cannot comfortably say “I know how you feel.” For instance, I can’t say it regarding bungee jumping, but I can regarding white water rafting. I can’t say it about breaking a limb, but I can about landing foot first onto a three-inch nail. Semantics. At the most astute of times, knowing that a physical hurt is not the same thing as an emotional trauma, I hesitate to throw myself into the ring of common experience even when two situations seem similar because experience and the feelings they expose are so personal.

Perhaps the greatest realm in which I cannot remotely get close to saying those soul-bonding words, “I know how you feel” despite what I do for a living, is in dying, or more accurately – knowing that one is actively dying. And I have now been in the presence of some gracious souls who knew they were, and in almost every instance have found them open, receptive to questions, and in the face of my not knowing how it feels – assumingly, brave. I’m talking about those that choose their dying: the date, the time, the place.

In Canada, two types of MAID (Medical Assistance in Dying) are allowed: A physician or nurse practitioner can directly administer a substance that causes the death of the person who has requested it, or, a physician or nurse practitioner can give or prescribe to a patient a substance that they can self-administer to cause their own death. And in the face of diagnoses that are bleak to say the least, the decision to utilize this now legal and well-considered option in all of its well-considered processes, can be a merciful end of life decision.

I would be lying if I said that sitting at a dining room table or in a living room chair in someone’s house who is actively dying and who has chosen to get things prepared, is exactly the same as if they were perfectly well and setting things in order. It isn’t. There is often a warm and humbling sombreness to the affair. Not discomfort. But honesty. It’s that kind of honesty that partially attracted me to funeral service in the first place. That open and all-cards-on-the-table feeling, that there is little between us that makes us strangers to one another, except, in the case of those who choose MAID – they know how this feels in a way that I don’t. And for those who open the conversation because they see that there is no cause not to, (and this makes me want to weep), and speak with me as though I were a “friend” – a gratefulness blossoms between us and something that I can only describe as an unspoken understanding of what matters in life.

I can only imagine that truly knowing you are dying, and when, creates a tremendous sense of appreciation and awareness of oneself with those things and those people in the immediate world around you. Things must become sharp and clear. Conversations must drop all pretense. In a word, it can be a beautiful space to be in if not for the inevitable reason you are in it. And I, for one, feel so very honoured to have spent time in the company of those who are preparing themselves. Their options are in sharp focus – the world beyond and the world they will leave behind. All things in order.

For those who find themselves in the boat of this decision, floating in the universal ocean of our human inevitability – I cannot fully know how you feel. It’s true. What I do know is that I admire your resolve. I’m thankful for the sparse, but sometimes very poignant and deeply felt conversations about things spoken in words or unspoken through your eyes. I’m humbled and profoundly moved in your allowing me to spend even one extra minute of your available time in your company. Surely, a gift to me, that I remain to write about it here on this page after you are gone. I remember you all – grateful for the reminder of who and what I am, and what we all are, together.




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