I've been saddened to hear of the death of an old family friend who was a quite exceptional person. His parents and mine were close friends when they were newly married, and it was an enduring friendship. Mike, who was a few years younger than me, was born with a deformity named Ectopia Visicae, which means that part of the bowel is outside the body. As a baby he had an operation to alleviate this which entailed removing the bladder and transplanting the ureters into the colon. Despite this terrible handicap, with resultant kidney problems which caused one to be removed when he was in his thirties, Mike led an active and often outdoor life and eventually married Sheila, a splendid person who has been totally supportive of him throughout their lives together. They both had busy teaching careers, adopted a son, and renovated a holiday home in France, where they spent much of their summers.
For the past dozen or so years Mike had periodic colonoscopies to check that nothing untoward was happening, because where the ureters entered the colon polyps had formed which could become cancerous. Alas, his latest biopsy showed this had occurred, and so instead of their usual newsy Christmas letter Mike wrote to say that he would be spending Christmas in hospital for a big operation, but the prognosis was good and although shell-shocked, he believed that "I will be OK as I am an awkward bugger".
But this wasn't to be, and although the major operation was initially successful septicaemia set in and Mike has died, brave to the end. At my age, I hear far too often of the deaths of old friends. Mike and Sheila were a lovely couple of the too-rare kind who get their chief satisfaction in life from caring for and being of service to others - from creating, not from destroying. Now that he has gone, I know that Sheila will keep forging ahead with the comfort of knowing what a lot of friends they have.
As the seventeenth-century metaphysical poet John Donne famously wrote:
"No man is an Iland, entire of it self: every man is a piece of Continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind;
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."
Sleep peacefully, Mike.