Falls Are a Serious Risk to Elders
Ronni’s Little Red Car

On the Advent of Our Deaths

category_bug_journal2.gif Ageism. However wrong it is, however much individual pain and debilitating consequences result from it and how many people are harmed is, to a degree, about fear of death. The young do not want to believe they too will get old one day and will not escape this world alive. So those whose appearance would remind them of their unavoidable end are shunned.

But a funny thing happens to some people, thoughtful people, those with a philosophical bent as that day draws nearer; they come to not only accept their death, but in many cases to welcome it – and not just those who are sick or disabled or those who believe in afterlife.

“Death is the true and best friend of humanity…the key which unlocks the door to our true state of happiness.
- Mozart
”Death seems to me so often a relief, a rendering up of responsibility, a quitting of many vexatious trifles.”
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
“We are put on this earth to celebrate. You give it everything you have. Everything. That includes your death. The greatest thing you can do is possess your own death so that when it comes it is given, not taken. Honor your own death. It is a sacrament…Death renders life magnificent…Death walks beside one, and so does whatever one’s sense of God is, or the sublime.”
- Scott Symons

These quotes are from a marvelous collection, Light on Aging and Dying, selected by Helen Nearing. I have not stopped reading and pondering these quotations since the book was published more than a decade ago. It sits always beside my bed.

Ms. Nearing divides this little book into three sections on old age, dying and death. Thinkers as far back as ancient Egypt and China, through the intervening years and up to today are represented. It is a good thing, as we get older, to know what conclusions others have come to regarding the final passage of life.

Many of these people have remarked on the need for the living to make room for those coming up behind us:

“There is a usefulness of time when a man should go, and not occupy too long the ground to which others have a right to advance.”
- Thomas Jefferson
“I am old; I am going to die…I often think about it. I am getting ready…It is time for me to disencumber the world.”
- Victor Hugo
“Every human death is ultimately for the good of the group.”
- Robert S. Morison
“Coming at its due time, when the organism has given all it can give, death is the great minister of orderly evolution.
- Gustav Geley
“Every part of nature teaches that the passing away of one life is the making room for another. The oak dies down to the ground, leaving within its rind a rich virgin mold, which will impart a vigorous life to an infant forest.”
- Henry David Thoreau
“Death is only Nature’s remedy for over-crowding.”
- George Bernard Shaw

Present-day culture is so adept at hiding death from us, of making the subject taboo in conversation that it is a revelation - and a relief - to know that that some people have a different view.

“For myself, I do not need to look in terms of survival after death. I feel myself to be part of the known properties of earth’s family, and that is enough. One day, the breath I have been privileged to use will become again a part of the earth’s family being…If there is another place to catch up with the ‘breath,’ I hope it will be as challenging as it has been here; but if it does not exist, it is enough that I have lived.”
- Eileen D. Garrett
“All that nature has prescribed must be good; and as Death is natural to us, it is absurdity to fear it.”
- Sir Richard Steele
“As to you, Death, and your bitter hug of mortality, it is idle to try to alarm me.”
- Walt Whitman
“Perhaps the best cure for the fear of death is to reflect that life has a beginning as well as an end. There was a time when you were not; that gives us no concern. Why then should it trouble us that a time will come when we shall cease to be? To die is only to be as we were before we were born.”
- William Hazlitt
“Proceed, then, clear-eyed and laughing. Go to greet Death as a friend.”
- Rupert Brooke

In hiding death from our everyday lives, we deny ourselves the chance to remember and contemplate that it is the greatest mystery of all. I don’t want to go to my grave without thoughtful preparation for it.

“Like a projectile flying to it goal, life ends in death. Even its ascent and its zenith are only steps and means to this goal. We grant goal and purpose to the ascent of life, why not death? For 20 years and more the growing man is being prepared for the complete unfolding of his individual nature, why should not the older man prepare himself 20 years and more for his death?
- Carl Jung
“Death is, by all odds, the most important and overshadowing thing that confronts man. Of all the phenomena of nature confronting him, there is nothing else of greater importance.”
- Clarence Darrow
“What a simple thing death is, just as simple as the falling of an autumn leaf.”
- Vincent van Gogh
“I have always believed that the moment of death is the norm and the goal of life.”
- Simone Weil
“For my part, I would like to die fully conscious that I am dying…slow enough to allow death to insinuate itself into my body and fully unfold, so as not to miss the ultimate experience, the passage.”
- Marguerite Yourcenar
“To die should be the most interesting journey of all the journeys a man can make.”
- Jan Willem van de Wetering
“It is too bad that dying is the last thing we do, because it could teach us so much about living.”
- Robert M. Herhold

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lia tells how she learned more in catechism class than the teacher probably intended in The Shawn of My Childhood.]

Comments

Comforting thoughts, indeed. However, 83-year-old psychologist and sociologist Lillian Rubin, in her book "60 on Up: The Truth About Aging" (see my review at http://seniorwriter.blogspot.com/2007/09/many-dilemmas-of-aging-book-review.html) discovered in her research that even the deeply religious often fear death and take heroic steps to pospone the inevitable. The more philosophical view is hard to achieve.

From the dawn of time the fear of death has always loomed in the background of life. To alleviate this fear, nearly all religions became based on a belief in a hereafter. Since no one, even Houdini, has come back to tell us if there is such a thing we can only believe what comforts us.

Believing in an afterlife takes away the sting of leaving this beautiful Earth and our loved ones. The ancient Egyptians carried it a step further and believed they could take their worldly goods with them.

My husband had a near-death experience and, after that, he referred to death as a great adventure.

I tend to lean toward William Hazlitt's philosophy. I do not fear death. We fear death only because it is the unknown.

Ronni, you have become my morning paper. I stopped reading the paper some months ago because I never want to start my day on such a negative bent. Now, you are who I turn to each morning with my coffee. You cover all the issues of not just aging but life and with such clarity. The collection of thoughts and voices expressed on this site is truly awesome.

Once again today you took an issue of aging which so many fear and therefore avoid discussing and put such a natural spin to it that it eases some of that fear. For me it is not a fear of death; it is a greed of living. There is still so much more I want to learn and to give.

A book I would recommend in this area is: The Zen of Living and Dying by Philip Kapleau.

Well, my coffee cup is empty so I am off to refill my cup and continue refilling my good thoughts for this day. Thank you.

A good topic.

I have faced death. I didn't have a 'near death experience', but I was told I would not recover and would die. I was 30 years old.

Twenty-two years ago I had breast cancer. After much chemotherapy, radiation, and more chemotherapy, malignant cells were discovered in a fluid buildup around my heart. The doctors were not optomistic, to put it mildly.

But I lived. It was those crucial weeks, after the doctors had given up and I was waiting to die, that I came to terms with death.

I now have a philosophical attitude about death. I can relate to most of the quotes Ronni listed.

When you live in a society where old people are segregated and often die alone, death becomes scary and mysterious.

Ronni,

Of all the quotes I read above, the one I most agree with is by Thomas Jefferson.
I think he is quite right in proposing that we really should not overstay our alloted time on Earth. We must make way for the generations to come as the generations before us made room for us.

I wonder if that's the same Helen Nearing who was married to Scott and together they wrote several books on 'natural' living, gardening, life. Scott was an active man past 100, still chopping wood. When he fell and knew he'd not recover to full life, he deliberately, and I believe spiritually, chose death by not eating rather than extend his dying years. If it's the same woman, their books were very worthy of reading-- well even if it's not :)

Yes, Rain - same people...

What incredible quotes. I'll have to get this book and add it to my aging bibliography.

I am not afraid of being dead. I actually think it will be hugely interesting to see what happens. But I am afraid of how I will get to that point. My mother died very unexpectedly, within 3 hours, at age 72. She never got old, or sick or exasperating. I think she was so lucky, although it was shocking for the rest of us. My dad, on the other hand, had cancer. He wasn't old until he got sick (at 78) and then it was horrible for about eight months. I realize even that was short compared to some, but it was long enough to scare me.

I love the philosophical quotes, but I'm not quite sold on the idea of dying yet. I admire those who anticipate it as part of the life experience.

People don't fear death.

They fear dying.

I might take that a step further, donna. I don't fear death, and I don't fear dying. What I fear is physical pain.

Thanks for bringing this book to our attention. My mother was afraid of dying because of her conviction that death marked the end of everything. She was not in pain, simply old, 97. Since death, to her, meant nothingness, she resisted. Then, little by little, she began to accept the idea of leaving this earth. I think her acceptance was partially due to her "visitors."

I have turned my blog about Bea into a book and contacted over 100 agents. Young agents do not expect death to be a commercial subject, so they tell me they do not feel "passionate" enough about the project, although the writing is good. I keep trying, convinced that there is someone out there who understands how much interest there will be in a book that actually documents these "visitors," which hospice personnel tell me people in nursing homes also have but do not report ...

When we took our first breath, we also took our last gasp. This is true and it makes the journey more interesting, not easier but more like anticipation - the things that are not pleasing won't last forever. Whooppee!

Excellent, helpful post.

That is an interesting and sensible way to look at death too: Think about all of the bad things you won't have to experience anymore, while also thinking about the good things that might lie ahead (no pun intended).

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