The British neurologist and essay writer Oliver Sacks died in August 2015 and scholars, intellectuals and fans all over the world have felt his leaving. When you google ‘oliver sacks obituary’, you will see obituaries from great medias such as The New York Times, The Guardian and BBC News and you will understand more about the British doctor who got internationally famous for telling patients stories as in the best seller The man who mistook his wife for a hat.
However, in the last two years of life, facing advanced age and the certainty of death because of a cancer Oliver started writing other texts that were published, translated and read by millions of people. Gratitude (Companhia das Letras) is the name of a small collection of four articles, originally published by The New York Times, that talk precisely of the author’s feelings in the face of death.
Gratitude has become a common word also in the social medias in the last years – it is said that ‘thank you’ involves a connection to the one who has done something for you, as a debt, and that gratitude would be a pure word, just an emotion, that doesn’t place the beneficiary in a debt situation. And for many people using the word excessively ended up belittling it and making it meaningless. However, the experience of reading Sacks book is another: in his last moments, the author returns to essence and in an exercise of calmly separating what is worth it from what is considered less important, he elects gratitude as a main feeling when saying goodbye to life:
“When people die they cannot be replaced. They leave holes that cannot be filled, for it is the fate – the genetic and neural fate – of every human being to be a unique individual – to find his own path. To live his own life. To die his own death. I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and I have been loved. I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and travelled and thought and written. I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers. Above all I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet; and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and an adventure.”
While reading these 58 pages at once I remembered something I have learned with my friend Cynthia Almeida, co-founder no Vamos falar sobre o luto? (Let’s talk about grieving). At the project documentary, she says that something that helped her to overcome the premature death of her child Gabriel was the feeling of gratitude of having him near for 20 years. This made me think about Sacks thoughts and how important they are, not only for having more serenity when facing death, but also for going on with life after a loss.