Of water, sudden deaths and a Cohen note
A short note by the Canadian singer, songwriter and poet Leonard Cohen to his muse and former lover Marianne Ihlen has received quite some attention in the international media.
Cohen had heard from Ihlen’s close friend Jan Christian Mollestad that she was dying and so he wrote her a final poignant letter .
“It took only two hours and in came this beautiful letter from Leonard to Marianne,” Mollestad told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).
Mollestad read Cohen’s letter to Ihlen before she died. “It said well Marianne it’s come to this time when we are really so old and our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very soon. Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine.
“And you know that I’ve always loved you for your beauty and your wisdom, but I don’t need to say anything more about that because you know all about that. But now, I just want to wish you a very good journey. Goodbye old friend. Endless love, see you down the road.”
In absorbing, brief, and clear language, Cohen managed to simplify a subject so many of us do our best to avoid – death. Maybe it is the fear of the unknown; maybe it is the uncertainty; maybe it is the finality of it. Whatever it is, somehow we have great difficulty finding the words – or the courage – to talk about it as vividly and openly as Cohen did.
“I think I will follow you very soon,” he wrote. No fear here.
Mollestad told CBC that when he read the line “stretch out your hand,” Ihlen stretched out her hand. “Only two days later she lost consciousness and slipped into death.”
The fact is Cohen had the opportunity to share final words with the woman he once loved before her passing.
However, in recent months, a number of Barbadian families have not had an opportunity to do the same – certainly not the kind of good byes they would have liked – because their loved ones died suddenly.
The frequency of these deaths and the very public nature of some of them have led to increased speculation and have sent the rumour mill spinning out of control.
The Barbados Water Authority (BWA) must have thought it had put this issue to bed when last month it was forced to deny reports circulating on social media that the premature deaths were due to the existence of lead in new water metres.
In seeking to dispel the “erroneous reports”, the BWA said at that the time that the procurement of the new HYDRUS Ultrasonic water metres followed stringent guidelines, consultation and approval of the Barbados National Standards Institute (BNSI).
The BWA’s position was strengthened by Chief Medical Officer Dr Kenneth George who explained that non-communicable diseases were responsible for the 24 sudden deaths between late January and mid-June, up from 21 last year. There have been at least two more such deaths since, kicking into life once again, the engine of distrust in the authorities.
Comments last week by Advocacy Director Kammie Holder of the Future Centre Trust that authorities might still be falling short of the testing mark has helped to reignite the debate over whether the very water on which we depend for life could be responsible for the deaths.
“Nobody tests for hydrocarbons on the roadside in Barbados . . . nobody tests for the nitrogen dioxides on the streets of Barbados, and I know there are many water soluble chemicals that probably could be within our water. But who test for those?
“I’m saying the time is right where we need to also now look at what we’re testing for in our water and look at increasing the number of things we test for. The jury is out on what is causing so many people to come down with serious ailments,” Holder told Barbados TODAY last Thursday.
In an effort to clear the air on Friday said: “At no time did I say that the water is responsible for NCDs or the spate of sudden deaths. No scientific or anecdotal evidence suggest such. What was said is that the number of contaminants tested for should be increased. I further stated that nitrogen dioxide, hydrocarbons, sulphur dioxide and other water soluble pollutants found in vehicle exhaust should be tested for.
“It was also highlighted that diesel exhaust has been linked to diabetes as an NCD, thus it’s ludicrous to insinuate that water is giving persons NCDs and there is a link to the sudden deaths, which I publicly dismissed as rubbish when the gossip mill first started with this malicious rumour.”
However, he had said enough the previous day to lead the BWA General Manager Dr John Mwansa to describe Holder as an alarmist, saying his statement was not based on facts and served no purpose.
It is not for us to cast judgment on anyone, however, we have a responsibility to be careful in circumstances like these, to ensure the information that we share is indeed based on facts, and that we do not cause alarm or panic.
People want to know, for example, if the water is the cause, where aren’t more people dying? Is there something in the water that triggers prevailing conditions?
Still, the fact that the issue is kept alive means people still have doubts and it is up to the BWA and the Ministry of Health to reassure the public. True, there are the conspiracy theorists who will never be satisfied. But the majority of Barbadians are fair enough to accept a reasonable explanation if they are given information.
While we can not expect the health authorities to make the autopsies public, the water authority can calm nerves by testing regularly for all the contaminants that Holder mentioned, and anything else that is likely to impact on the quality of the drinking water, and to make the results public. Asking people to trust it is not enough.