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Accepting the Idea of Death

Death, my own, has been a companion for all my life - or close enough. Such thoughts took up a good portion of my 21st birthday – the arrival of full adulthood for my generation - as I spent two or three hours alone along the seawall in Sausalito, where I then lived, trying to make sense of the idea that at sometime in the far, far future I would die.

As hard as I tried that day to accept what one part of my mind fully understood was the ultimate awful truth of life, I could not conceive of it. You and you and you would die but not me. I was, I almost believed, the one immortal.

Not infrequently through the ensuing half-century, I revisited those thoughts determined to make peace with my mortality or, possibly more important, to rid myself of the anxiety, dread and horror of non-existence.

I suppose I made some progress toward acceptance but mostly my death remained theoretical until a few months ago when the doctor pronounced the words, pancreatic cancer. It's not like many people survive that diagnosis for long.

Since then, I've spent even more time than in the past thinking about death. Not generic death, not death in the abstract, but my personal death. And what, be my time short or long, I can do with the indisputable knowledge that I have a life-ending disease.

Over the years of studying ageing, I have read dozens of books about death and dying – the clinical, the scientific, the medical, the metaphorical, the personal journals of caregivers, others who would make comedy of their own impending death along with “expert” advice on how to meet the inevitable.

Now that I am knocking on that door, none of it means much anymore but I have come to a simple answer that I can live with – until I come up with something better – which is this:

Go on living, whatever that may be each day. If you can't get rid of it, take the burden of fear with you – you've had decades of practice. Most of all, there is no point in being miserable over something that cannot be changed.

[ASIDE: And anyway, how hard it could be, this dying stuff: after all, everyone who ever lived has done it.]

It has helped that I have recalled a true story I told here some years ago but hadn't thought of since then:

Talking with a friend as we walked down Bleecker Street in New York City, I gestured widely with my arms to make a point as I stepped backward. Instead of solid pavement, there was the emptiness of an entrance to a store cellar - a large, square hole in the sidewalk.

As I fell backward, I managed to brace myself against the building wall with one arm and could see below that it was a deep cellar with many, steep concrete steps. I would surely die as my body crashed to the floor.

My friend caught my other arm and tried to pull but she was wearing new, smooth-soled sandals that kept slipping so that she couldn't get a purchase on the ground to help me up. My arm against the building was slipping too and I knew I couldn't hold myself there for long.

Then, in the span of no more than ten seconds, I went from blind, paralyzing fear (oh, shit, I'm going to die right here and now) to perfect calm and acceptance (it's okay, I can do this).

Then I deliberately let go of the wall to fall to my death.

But a miracle happened. Two strong hands caught my back in the middle of the fall and gently lowered me, unharmed except for a scraped elbow, to safety and continued life.

I am not religious. I do not believe in an afterlife. I don't believe in reincarnation. And I doubt the significance placed on all those near-death, white-light stories. I believe that when we are done with our one life, we're done.

What I hope for is what happened to me on the basement stairs of that Bleecker Street restaurant one day many years ago - that as death grows close, I can accept that it is my time to go. Meanwhile, I intend to carry on pretty much as I would have had this rude interruption not occurred.

ADDENDUM: (Cue Twilight Zone music.) We were both shaking, my friend and I, when I returned to solid ground and we sat on an adjoining stoop smoking cigarettes until I'd calmed down.

Without our having noticed as we sat there saying little, the metal doors to the basement had been closed and padlocked so I went into the restaurant to ask for the person in the basement who had saved my life. None of the waiters nor the cashier knew what or who I was talking about. They insisted none of them nor anyone else who worked there had been to the cellar yet that day.

I don't know what to say about that.

Comments

Wow, amazing story. I too have always had a fear/knowledge of my eventual death and find it very hard to comprehend. Like, if I'm not here to observe the world, how will it continue? Too mind-bending to contemplate. Your new attitude sounds similar to how my mother thought about death. When I asked her once a long time ago whether she is afraid to die, her response was "I figure there will always be a little more time." Which translated to a similar result as your decision to just go on living each day, and that is what she did. Up until her last hospitalization for COPD at 91, she continued to enjoy the little things in her life, be interested in politics, and yes, smoke her cigarettes. So enjoy your time and I wish you the best.

Oh boy, I too am grappling with thoughts of death. Not so much death itself but after-death. How can I just disappear and no longer have any consciousness?
In my old age I have completely lost my faith and any belief in God that I had as a younger person. I so wish it has not been so. How much Easier to go through to the end of life completely certain I will be floating around in a heavenly afterlife. So much easier to live in a delusion then in the reality of life.

The night after my father died, our whole family was at mom's house. We couldn't believe our dad was gone forever, We were shocked, couldn't stop crying, grateful to have each spent time saying goodbye to dad at the hospital.

I will never forget my last long walk down the hospital corridor to his room.

A nurse handed my mom a plastic bag containing dad's watch, wallet. I wanted to punch that nurse. She was just doing her job.

Later at mom's we were frozen. Eventuakky I went up to my old bedroom, lay in bed thinking about all the things I would never again get to do with my dad.

It was raining hard outside, the kind of rain that punches against roofs. Way into the night I heard the sound of wet footsteps marching down our dead end street, as if on a mission. Whoever or whatever it was, it came right up to our front door, and then it stopped.

Nobody rang the bell.

I don't believe in ghosts, but what the hell was that?

I imagined it was my dad busting out of his hospital bed and coming home where he belonged.

The next morning I told my sister about the footsteps.

She heard it too.

I believe my dad continues to set us straight, give us tips, boot our asses when needed.

Forget about his watch and wallet.

He's got us covered.

Ah, no.

Correction:

The word should be eventually.

Not what my finger printed above.

Canadian sorry..

Before receiving a terminal diagnosis “death” was something slightly abstract and I’ve always felt so sorry for people who received a “death sentence” and wondered how do they cope knowing that? Well, like you, I now know - you continue step by step - sometimes I feel guilty that I’m not walking around wringing my hands saying woe is me :-)

I also want to say something about “what comes after”. The reality is WE DON’T KNOW. Being a person who naturally is able to accept “not knowing” I find people who are vehemently anti-religious or are trying to get reassurance via psychic means, or have a fully forged idea of “heaven” difficult to comprehend. Life and death are a MYSTERY and that’s exciting ... the possibilities are endless. Much more than anything our tiny imaginations are able to conjure up.

Oh, your guardian angel caught you - it was not your time, just as it is not your time now - you are sharing your journey with such a wide appreciative audience. Imagine yourself as a cartoon character in the newspaper - would you be able to comprehend the 3-D world we inhabit? There are infinite worlds we cannot imagine that intersect with ours. Read 'Our Soul's Plan' by Robert Schwartz if you want a glimpse. No, nobody knows what's beyond but like a fish which sticks its head out of the water and dives deep again, the other fishes would not believe his tale of land, trees, and air.

I'd say your friend in the cellar is a perfect Deus ex Machina. And your blog, your ability to be supported by all of us unseen readers, is a contemporary version of that great savior.

Then, too, your ability to suspend yourself between life and death, by being so beautifully conscious, serves as yet another version.

The most beautifully conscious journey I've come across lately is Stanley Kunitz's, beautifully rendered in his poem, The Layers. I just wrote about it in my latest post.

Can a post about one's death be lovely? I don't know, but somehow this one is. I agree with Laura's comment, it was simply not your time. Some day, far in the future we hope, it will be, just as it eventually will be for all of us.

I lost the faith I was raised in with my mother's suffering death when I was a teenager. For a long time afterwards, though, I still believed in an afterlife because I could not accept the idea that I would never see her again. Over time that belief has faded away. But here's what I do feel: love survives. Maybe all is gone - our bodies, our consciousness.... But all the love we have for our nearest and dearest....well, I cannot accept that it just evaporates. Somehow, in some way that I am now relaxed enough to feel I don't need to understand, love persists.

Patently an angel story. So much more to do. Good Choice. Thank You!

Well...you are right and, happily, wrong. Your ego, crucial for your interaction with the physical world, is what "dies". However, your individuality and personality, which are not dependent upon a physical body and are a projection of a greater soul, do continue on to grow and develop.

Doesn't make the prospect of death any easier since most people are generally only conscious of their ego, which is understandably terrified at the thought of withdrawing its focus from the physical world.

“What you call death is merely the transformation of your own energy onto a sphere that cannot be perceived by the outer senses.” and, my favorite, “It is somewhat humorous that such a vital consciousness could even suppose itself to be the end product of inert elements that were themselves lifeless, but somehow managed to combine in such a way that your species attained fantasy, logic, vast organizational power, technologies, and civilizations."

Death, no more profound topic, for we the living.
I like the idea that death is not the end, so I'll run with that until proven wrong--just how will that work?

That calm and acceptance as you fell is exactly what I felt when my foot got stuck in a class V rapid (Youghiogheny River's deadly Dimple Rock) with water up to my chin and seemingly no way to budge my foot while the turbulent waters were eventually going to topple me. Anyway, after several perilous minutes, I finally got out, but am still amazed that I did not panic nor freak out.

Anyway, I could talk for hours on this topic (Death, afterlife, etc), but I'll stop. Thanks Ronni for sharing.

John


There are certainly plenty of those "woo-woo" moment anecdotes to cause one (me) to be agnostic about what, if anything, comes later. And we are all agnostic, regardless of what we profess, as no one really knows.

I agree that death is a mystery, no idea what's behind it. The novel, "The Lovely Bones," has the best concept of an afterlife I've come across so far. But I rather like the idea of nothingness -- no risk of being reincarnated back into this crazy dimension, no risk of running into those souls we'd rather avoid, no boring harp lessons. Nothingness could actually be one's reward.

It seems strange that for the last few weeks I've been thinking a lot more about my death. I'm 70 and so far healthy, but I know time is now limited no matter. I too am not religious nor believe in an afterlife of any sort....but....

It is your story of the person you could never find and the mystery of all that, that gives me pause and, unfortunately, adds to my fear.

My fear, as odd as it sounds, is eternity. I fear the unknown and what it might be and that if it wasn't good, it could go on forever. I want when I die for that to be it. My life, while good, has not been the same since my husband passed a few years back, so I'm not obsessed with trying to keep living beyond the normal daily good habits.

But to have to remember the not so pleasant things in my life forever, would be hell. I just want oblivion when it's time.

This fear is call apierophobia.

I relate to your posts almost all the time but this one caught me unawares and hit right home, for so many reasons. Thank you, Ronni. You and your honesty are so very precious to me (and to many, many others, I am sure).
This is going into my file of extra-special Ronni posts.

I have severe COPD and have been on Hospice twice. Unless I have a cold or other flare up of this ugly disease, I am pretty much independent and take care of myself.BUT I know that unless I get hit by a Mack truck or some other disaster befalls me, the COPD will eventually put an end to my life. I don't fear death;. In the hospital I have come close . The last time this happened, I felt an indescribable sence of peace and comfort.
I am not particularly religious but I do believe that a God is somehow present in our great universe. Any afterlife that humans imagine is influenced by limited images that we presently experience on earth. I therefore think that whatever happens after death will be vastly different from anything that we can conceive of.
Thanks for sharing Ronni, , the subject is fasinating

I like the Sagan/Tyson observation that we began as star dust and will eventually return to that form. (And I plan to expedite that with cremation and a scattering of ashes.) I don't really fear death itself, because I, my thoughts and feelings, will simply cease to exist; I will know nothing about it. Those who remain after me are the ones who will mourn and wonder and contemplate. As for dying, yes, I fear that. I fear the process, the possible pain, indignity, loss of independence, etc. At that point I hope I'll be thinking of death as a welcome release that comes quickly.

There is much we don't know.

I have lived since 2009 with the knowledge that I will die from pulmonary arterial hypertension. I was misdiagnosed for 5 years with asthma. My heart was badly damaged because I was untreated. PAH is an orphan disease. 3 in 1 million people are affected with PAH. It is monsterously expensive to treat ($400,000/yr). Should I lose any portion of my insurance coverage, I will have no option but to check into a hospice with physician assisted exit as my goal. No one should be asked to suffocate to death at home alone.

All that being said, treatment has given me independence and a decent quality of life. Everyday is my gift. I try to enjoy everything no matter how small. I laugh easier. I speak to strangers. I encourage at every opportunity. I love fiercely. The end of my life needs to feel complete. I am not finished yet. I can only strive to get there before my time is up. As for the after life, I am a Buddhist. We come back repeatedly (supposedly) to learn new lessons from different perspectives until we reach a state of Buddahood. Who knows? There is comfort in that belief.......

Beautifully written and compelling to hear. I must tell you that a very similar event happened to me...I know those strong hands that you speak of...I was in my 30s living in Brooklyn. It was dusk and I was walking home from downtown Brooklyn. I had to cross a major, major thoroughfare with 6 lanes of traffic and a center median at rush hour...cars zooming off of the Brooklyn Bridge. I made it across the first 3 lanes and stopped in the median. A car in the left lane (closest to me) was stopped and he motioned me to continue across the next 3 lanes. I started and stopped in the center lane...I looked to my right to see cars coming fast at me...I stepped back to get to the median, but the driver who had motioned me through was already moving...I began a back and forth movement and was falling. In the moment, I wished that I could stay standing so that the car headlights would at least reflect off my white skirt and I could be seen. That's when 2 strong hands caught me from falling and pushed me up and I stood perfectly straight. All the traffic stopped. I proceeded across the remaining lanes and stopped at the corner. A man standing on the corner looked at me wide-eyed and just said, Wow, you were lucky. Then I turned to thank the man who had caught me but no one was there. I had forgotten this story until I read your account. Thank you. Was it an Angel? Maybe. For me the experience was quietly comforting. Stay well. Enjoy each Day.

"I am not religious. I do not believe in an afterlife. I don't believe in reincarnation. And I doubt the significance placed on all those near-death, white-light stories. I believe that when we are done with our one life, we're done."

Why? :-)

You always explain your reasoning on every subject Ronni, regardless of complexity or controversy. It would be fascinating to hear your reasoning on this, the most complex (and apparently controversial) subject of them all.

I have been present with three people who died gently, two of them at home. All of us were helped by the hospice nurses involved. I say "us" because hospice nurses help caregivers as well as the dying person. I haven't observed a fierce, scary death or one that didn't involve hospice.

That said, I think my fear of the death process has been more about dying than death itself -- pain and losing control. After having read "Being Mortal" by Atul Gawande and "Extreme Measures: Finding a Better Path to the End of Life" by Jessica Nutik Zitter, MD (an intensive care doctor), I found comfort and a course of action to take. They both discuss the fact that medical staff are trained to save lives no matter what. Both emphasize that it's better for all to switch to palliative and hospice care sooner than later.

I am developing a "death plan" similar to a "birth plan." Man plans, god laughs -- but that doesn't mean I can't take action. I have talked with my close relatives, even those who are squeamish about my death. This talk especially included the person who is my healthcare power of attorney. I've asked them to advocate for what I want with respect to medical care when I can't. They need to know my preferences ahead of time, i.e., sharing my advance directives with them.

And I also believe that my soul -- whatever that is -- continues on in some way. Could be in the memory of others I have known. Could be in some kind of spiritual refinement. I agree with other posters who consider this a great mystery.

However, I'm only 70 and haven't had any kind of scary illness so what do I know!?

Thank you, Ronni, for bringing the discussion of death into this forum. It's a place to talk about this subject among ourselves without horrifying others who deny that it will ever happen.

Thank you...for it all!

I think of death as a part of life, as much a miracle as birth. But then I also believe in multiple planes of souls' existence and reincarnation. No surprise, I see your unknown "guardian angel" as a true intervention showing the power of the Universe.

Terrific story about the fall--thank you for it. A mystery.

The Zen teachers I listen to tell me that we are mistaken about what constitutes "me." They say that we are mistaken in thinking that "me" ends at the boundaries of our bodies, that "me" is a LOT bigger than that.

Dunno. But I guess we'll all find out.

This may be the most important column you have ever written. Honest and true. Thank you.

Wow, great column, I'll be rereading it and all the comments again tomorrow. And that calm moment, yes, I've experienced that twice, total serene acceptance of whatever comes next. Whether there's an afterlife or not, why worry?Many religious and spiritual people believe there is, that's fine and maybe true. I do believe that we all have souls, that we are the universe and the universe inhabits us.
I like what Montaigne (thanks to you, I'm reading him) says about death, not to worry, death will instruct us at the time. Oh, and I totally believe that dying is as worthy a journey as being born, however long or short the process. We come in complaining, we go out complaining, it's really funny somehow.

Yep, at our ages, death is a fact of life soon to be faced. Your post sure did hit a sore spot, Ronnie.

When trying to discuss that fact with others, the reaction seems to be along the lines of, "oh, plenty of time yet, we can talk about that later!" Or in other words, avoid this scary subject.

Regarding your lucky escape from the sidewalk opening, the story you tell is compelling and could have happened - of course! Being devil's advocate for a moment, though, perhaps someone from that shop DID catch you in the nick of time, and sent you upright once more. Could it possibly be that the opening should not have been unattended, and that the store employees could have come in for horrendous difficulties had you been injured, or worse? Still, I'd rather go with the wonderful story you related. Otherwise, some store employee is still quaking in his boots.

My near-death experience happened in India back in '96. Traveling with 2 companions and a hired driver in a hired car on a nondescript (to be charitable) road, a Tata truck passed us going one way while another Tata truck passed us going the other way. You could hear the paint molecules vibrating on our little car as this exercise took place. While it was happening in the car it was utterly quiet and I prepared for death. Somehow we survived unscathed. No one screamed during, or even after (why bother after!) we just continued on our way.

To finish this way-to-long essay, yes, I"m prepared to die, but not yet, darn it. Although the Dr who gave me 6 months to a year - five years ago - had me worried there for a while.

I read this in the early morning hours and really didn't know what I wanted to say. I guess I still don't. However, although my answer to Kate may be far different than yours, Ronnie I will tell her why I don't believe in a hereafter.

It is simply illogical that for all of the trillions of people who believed in some sort of hereafter are off in a heaven or are re-incarnated ion this earth. Too many have gone before us and too many will follow in death. Where have all those trillions of "souls" ended up? Even the pagans believed in an after life and I believe that mankind's fear of the inescapable death has caused religions of many kinds to manufacture a panacea in the form of a story of a life after death so we don't have to face the unknown.

As to the nothingness of those that believe that once we depart this earth, that's all there is baby. We knew nothing before we were born and we will know nothing after we die.

I have written about my near death last December and I was not frightened, although I do not believe in a hereafter, but was frustrated that is was messy and was taking so long. When my death does come I just want it to be quick.

The whole thing's a mystery. After the Big Bang there was no way that life could happen - and yet it did. Here we are.
Seems to me we come from somewhere at birth and at death we go somewhere. I guess Buddhism comes closest to explaining it.
Anyway, I want another 30 years.

I love you, Ronni. Thanks for another inspirational essay.

I love this topic.

I have no fear of my own death. For whatever reason, I never have. Of course I may change my mind when it is near at hand. But I don’t think I will.

I have been with some friends, when they died. It was very peaceful. I held my Dad as he died and I know that I passed him on to his Mom at that moment. (His Mom had died when my Dad was four – so I didn’t know her.) it was an incredibly strong feeling that I can’t explain. I’m not religious. I don’t believe in God. But, in my mind, there seems to be something. I look forward to learning what it is. And if it isn’t, if death is the end, that’s okay too.

This blog is so fabulous! Thank you Ronni and thank you also to all who comment here. What would I do without you?

Here in south central Pennsylvania, we've been hosting Death Cafes for the past several years. We've just scheduled our ninth of the year.

People who come to Death Cafes come together with other people they don't know to share conversation about death in a non-threatening, non-selling hour or two ... while enjoying cake, coffee or tea.

Talking about death is also quite related to talking about a life well lived.

I reread the post and the comments. Enlightening. Where do all of these nice, thoughtful people come from?

I'm not religious, don't believe in a "God" exactly -- like others here, perhaps "something" that exists in the human that animates us. Call it soul, or whatever.

I've known two individuals that had "near death experiences." Both were positive, and in one case, totally changed the individual. On the other hand, a quick search on Google will point you to people who have had bad "near death experiences." Not like hell, just a feeling of being in a void, or even that they never really existed.

Recently, a theory posited by the tech geniuses is that we are actually living in a virtual world/game, and these techies are trying to prove it. Fascinating reading on that topic, if anyone is interested.

I also had a couple of those scary experiences where I thought I was about to die -- and felt that overwhelming sense of "letting go" and "peace." One was after a surgery when I'd lost a lot of blood. And the other was on a plane that was landing on an icy runway. Incidentally, everyone on the plane was aware of the danger...as the plane skidded. But instead of screaming/yelling, it got so quiet you could have heard a pin drop. I've always remembered that -- wondering if we all felt that sense of letting go, peace?

Thanks for your candid sharing. For myself, I don't fear death itself -- just the dying process if it causes extreme suffering/pain. I hope to avoid that, but one never knows.

"I suppose I made some progress toward acceptance but mostly my death remained theoretical until a few months ago when the doctor pronounced the words, pancreatic cancer. It's not like many people survive that diagnosis for long."

I pray for you. Pancreatic cancer is stubborn. I hope you get well soon.

"Not infrequently through the ensuing half-century, I revisited those thoughts determined to make peace with my mortality or, possibly more important, to rid myself of the anxiety, dread and horror of non-existence."

We, humans are created by God (Allah). Our lives on earth are temporary. Our existences, consciousness, feelings, emotions aren't going to fade away into nothingness. Death isn't the ending, but the gate to the real world and real life. When we 'die', we meet our Creator. He creates us, so we can pray to him, so we can do and leave good deeds on this world life to seek his mercy and sake.

Death is not an ending. Our real lives begin after death. Human nature is not created on 'gone forever', human nature desires to live for eternity, wants to exist, even after 'death'.

I invite you to read Qur'an.

Please read Al-Fatiha to your loved ones who have passed away, returned to God (Allah)'s side. Reciting Al-Fatiha may give their souls a peace.

Forgive me, I am not trying to preach a religion to you, but death is a mystery for alive people, that's why we look for an answer from the Holy book.

May God (Allah)'s grace and mercy on you.

I have heard similar stories like Ronnie's before, but did not believe them until it happened to me.
As i was being wheeled into the OR for a life-saving procedure, from which I was not sure I would survive, I had a feeling or peace and love embrace me. I felt I was being held in the loving arms of family and friends. To this day I don't know if it was some medication I was given or a built-in bodily defense mechanism. But what ever it was it dispelled my fears.

“I could not stop for death so it kindly stopped for me.”

Wished I lived nearby to come drink a bottle of good red with you.

Death is such a compelling, gut-wrenching, scary topic- especially to those of us with less life ahead than life in the rear view mirror. You are a guru for me. Thank you.

My beliefs are similar. The only afterlife we can be certain of are those people who remain and live on. After you are gone we will miss and love you. We'll reread, relive and remember the stories you've poured yourself into. Thank you for baring yourself. You have made a difference in our lives.

Death has always been an expected part of life for me, not desired, but not expected to occur when I was younger. I’m not sure at what age I began to recognize the inevitability of an aging death was becoming much closer in time, rather than later. Certainly the possibility of circumstances developing which could hasten that event brings death’s reality to the fore for me as it does in a much more profound way for you.

Mostly I think as did my mother, that I do regret leaving this earth because I don’t want to miss anything, and there’s so much exciting and unknown that’s happening. My attitude toward any afterlife has evolved over the years. I’ve long concluded dust to dust is nature’s reality with which I’m quite comfortable. Perhaps having faced what we believe to be more immediate death threatening circumstances at any time in our life, whether due to disease or other unnatural causes, influences how we regard life’s end.

Wonderful writing!

Thanks again, Ronni! There have to be few places to have this kind of discussion! At 77, I am far less worried about dying than about losing my marbles. I'm in Norway at the moment, on an Elderhostel voyage by ship up the Norwegian north coast. All of us seem to have chosen this trip in hopes of seeing the Northern Lights. I think in a way this is connected to your post--we all want to see something beautiful and mysterious, otherworldly, to be reminded of what is beyond our failing bodies. There are all ages here, including several very old with canes. I'm impressed. And tired. How do they do it?! I'm glad I came, but it is hard work, and I don't know if I'll have the stamina to do it again. I too am getting better and better at cherishing the small pleasures at home.

I am 60 now but many years ago when I was young and extremely foolish, I took a trip alone to Mexico and went to see the great pyramids in Chichen Itza. I was perhaps 19 years old and walking about the ruins when a man dressed in a uniform told me he worked there and, we began to discuss archeology. He offered to take me to a site nearby that was still being worked on and like a fool I agreed.

When we arrived at the site, there was NO ONE around and we had to climb down a very dark corridor to get there. As I began began my descent it occurred to me that: 1.) no one knew where on earth I was because I had told no one 2.) we were very far from the main site 3.) he had no flashlight and 4.) he probably planned to rape and kill me and my body would never be found.

Upon realizing this, I began to clamber up the ladder and his hand firmly closed over my ankles. At that very moment, 3 young men, about my age, and I recall, very good looking called out to me in Spanish "cousin, we've been looking for you ! come we are all going to eat!" They pulled me out of the hole and walked me to the main entrance and then disappeared.

I have no doubt that those three young men saved my life and my parents a lifetime of worry because the site was so remote, I would never have been found. Also, the disappeared so quickly that I also have no doubt that they were angels, sent to save me. I have believed ever since.

Late checking in on this post, but I can't add much to the interesting views and terrific prose already on display. That said, I'd just as soon check out of this life while I'm still of sound mind and have a few dollars in the bank. (I really don't want to live long enough to become completely dependent on government--or what's left of it in Trumpistan!--which gives me about 7-8 more years).

Also, I don't want to leave my just-turned-88 husband or our 3 senior cats alone in the world. Other than that, I'm good to go, but please make it quick and painless! My body never expected to be around for 80+ years and isn't very pleased with its current condition (it wasn't particularly well cared-for in its youth so maybe it's a physical manifestation of Karma).

Anyway, I'm totally non-religious and agree with those who say we're basically all agnostics--NONE of knows what will happen "afterwards". . .

Oops, that last sentence should read, "None of US knows. . ." That's the old proofreader in me coming to the fore, belatedly.

Dear Ronni,
when I was in my early fourties, I was visiting Rome and went into a church to rest. I'm not a religious person, but I've found that holy sites are good places for women alone to rest in safety. Right in front of me there was an altar of my favourite Portuguese saint, St. Anthony of Lisboa , also known as St. Anthony of Padua because he died in Padua, Italy, although he was born in Lisbon, Portugal, just like me.
I lit a candle at his altar, chatted a bit :-) and brought with me a small pamphlet with his painting and a small prayer (don't know the name in English) that I put in the pocket of my coat.
A few minutes later, crossing a 5 lane boulevard, I was hit by a car and thrown about 15 feet from it. I could feel myself going through the air. I never knew or felt when my "flight" stopped, no impact, no shock. I didn't loose conciousness, I could not see but I distinctly could hear cars and buses all around me zooming by. I knew I was going to die. And I felt total calmness, no panic, just peace. I didn't think of anything, not even of my children, I just knew I was going to die. Until I felt I was still, lying on the floor and alive! I could move my hands and feet, I opened my eyes and could see. I had no pain anywhere. Since nobody came to help me, I stood up, went to the car that had thrown me. The driver, who was crying her eyes out, couldn't believe I was alive and unscathed! Neither could I for that matter!!
I had to calm her down, reassure her I was okay and we went our separate ways.
Back at the hotel I looked at myself in a full length mirror and couldn't find bruises or scratches. And I had absolutely no pain.
I like to think that my saintly countryman saved my life. I ALWAYS carry the small painting and prayer everywhere I go.
The peace that we feel in these extreme situations is a normal chemical reaction of the brain. But the total absence of physical damage, was a miracle, for which I am grateful to Santo António de Lisboa

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