Age and Routine
The World Trade Center - One Story

Mortality

[EDITORIAL REQUEST: I have a project in mind for Time Goes By that will, at its conclusion, benefit all readers, but now involves only the oldest readers. If you are 76 or older, would you raise your hand by sending me an email. Just click "Contact" in the upper left sidebar. I'll then get back to you in a day or so with details.]

category_bug_journal2.gif On Monday, I published a piece I titled Mysterious New Feelings but it was a poor header. The feelings aren’t new to me or even mysterious. They are just being presented recently in a different manner than when I was younger.

It would better have been titled Mortality which, of course, is the central dilemma of life. Although it plagues us from the time we are old enough to understand that dying means our existence ends, it comes more sharply into focus when we enter elderhood.

As when I’ve written of mortality in the past, one theme in the comments this time was acceptance. Many of us elders don’t much fear death, but are terrified of dying - particularly a lingering, painful dying.

Another theme is sadness, particularly for those we leave behind, of not seeing grandchildren grow up or not wanting our loved ones to be sad. But we can’t affect other people’s feelings and we know from the losses we have experienced that they will be sad and I think that’s all right. Sadness, along with the every kind of hard knock in life, is essential to each of our beings.

And they will move on, as they should, as they must, just as we have, remembering us in their own way.

It was gratifying to know that others too have fleeting moments of disbelief, difficulty believing that something as solid as we are now in the world can – will – disappear. But my stronger feeling, as I mentioned Monday, is the rightness of death – a flower is born, blossoms, matures and then fades away making room for the next generation. All around us in nature, it is thus and no one has presented me with a good reason to believe it is otherwise for humans.

Sometimes I have envied those whose religious belief allows them to anticipate heaven, hell, 24 virgins and all the other variations of afterlife, because it guarantees continuation of one’s self as we know ourselves with all our memories, experiences and ego intact. That has never worked for me, but neither does too much contemplation of oblivion.

Now and then, however, there is a stark reminder, as when an old friend dies which happened to me recently. When the gathering of the clan, the funeral and formal ceremonies of mourning are done, I can’t help wondering when it will be my turn to go and then thoughts of oblivion intrude for awhile.

I’m a practical sort who doesn’t spend too much time on what I can’t change. One of my defenses against occasional dark nights of the soul is asking myself, “How hard can it be to die? After all, every person, genius or dolt, who ever walked the earth has done it.”

I don’t mean to take our mortality lightly; we all struggle with it - but the question both amuses and comforts me. And I can then get back to living.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Sharon McKinney takes on the question of minor Embarrassing Moments we are all familiar with.]


Comments

Wow. This was refreshing. I'm going to remember this quote that made me laugh:
“How hard can it be to die? After all, every person, genius or dolt, who ever walked the earth has done it.” Just cutting & pasting it brought a smile again.

I smile at this comment also.
Also, had a similar thought when I was about to give birth to my first child. "after all a lot of women that ever walked the earth has done it"

Yes, indeed. Since I turn 76 next month, and am facing double knee replacement surgery then as well, I think about mortality more often, with similar conclusions. My motto is to do the best I can with whatever time I have left.

Seniorwriter

An interesting book on the subject is "How We Die" by Sherwin B. Nuland. It quotes from John Webster, The Duchess of Malfi, 1612 "...death, hath ten thousand several doors For men to take their exits." The introduction begins "Everyone wants to know the details of dying, though few are willing to say so."

Ronni, your last two posts on mortality and more importantly on the ability to recognize our mortality have been great. As usual you spoke to the feelings we all have at times quite eloquently, yet simply.

I have often, since my days in the service, wondered what it's like for animals who do not contemplate death, but only live in the moment.

Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned from that. As we get older maybe we should focus on living in the moment.

I like a good stiff drink or two and a cigar and someone of intelligence and wit with whom to discuss these weighty matters.

I've been fortunate to have married just such a person. I hope you have friends who can provide the same thing for you.

Hang in there girl, think of it this way; As long as you're able to think about death, you're still alive.

Rich

Rich, animals may not contemplate death, but they have an instinct and know when they are dying. I have seen this illustrated with two of my dogs. I feel sorry for them because they are unable to give voice to those feelings.

I had an Aunt who would tell me to "pray for a happy death". Back then I thought she was very sad and morbid. Now in my late 70's I see it differently. I think she meant that if you come to your final moments and are satisfied that you have done your very best in life then you would be happy. I try to be grateful for every day and "make like a rose and bloom". Facing death bravely and with dignity may be the greatest lesson I can teach my survivors. I hope I have the courage to do that.

One of my favorite quotes is from C.S. Lewis: "You don't have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body."
I have no clear idea of the nature of life or of consciousness, but I question whether the birth and death of this body marks the beginning and end of consciousness apart from this particular set of experiences. I should probably take better care of it, but it's just a body.

Once the "chee" (chai)leaves the body - that is what is left...a body...the "neshamah - soul" is what makes us who we are. So it is imperative to put a smile on our faces and take care of our bodies and be at peace with ourselves as our souls travel to the Garden of Eden.

Given that I've received Last Rites of the Holy Roman, Catholic, and Apostolic Church twice before I was 40, I have no fear of death. I have also seen the much vaunted "white light" and it wasn't scary but comforting.

I just hope I have time to have things settled before my departure. The old song "And When I Die" by Blood, Sweat and Tears sums up mostly my philosophy on death.

This is a timely post Ronni as I had a trip to the ER yesterday.

Hi Ronnie, I have a saying, "YESTERDAY is History, TOMORROW is a Mystery and
TODAY is a Gift and that is why they call it the PRESENT!"

I try to live in the moment and it will stop my worrying about what could or would happen in the future. This is not always easy,but I try.
Nanci

It really is more about how our death comes than that it comes. Oregon voted in (by the people) a law that allows death with dignity. It's only applicable to those who have been given less than 6 months to live and have been deemed mentally capable of deciding they want to take their own lives rather than wait for the end. Most of us don't know we only have that long; and so it's not helpful to everyone but for many here, just knowing they could, even if they do not, has given them strength. A doctor's prescription might never be used but it means the power is in their own hands.

I didn't really expect to live past 30 which I think is not unusual in my age group. We grew up with the threat of the A-bomb. Some we knew had died in Vietnam. In my case I had a cousin who didn't make it to 30 but it was just a gut feeling I had... and when it proved wrong, I never again tried to second guess how long I'd live.

Ronni, thank you – for your posts from yesterday and today are excellent and thought-provoking. Like you I don’t believe in a religious afterlife such as heaven or hell and sometimes envy those who do (although I think they are in blissful denial). But I do think there is some kind of unexplainable power in the universe and life itself that we mere humans can never understand. I believe this mainly because of what happened after my father died. He was not religious, but did not fear death. When he was dying from lung cancer at age 68, he was very stoic and brave, saying “I could have died in the war….” He felt each day after his liberation from POW camp in Germany was a gift for him. But after he passed away, at home, some very strange and unexplainable (indeed impossible) things happened to my mother and I that convinced us his “spirit” if you will, was still around. I won’t go into the details because it would take too long, but believe me – the experiences were real, physical, and too far out and plain weird to be mere coincidences. At first frightening, after I accepted the incidents for what they were, I felt comforted by them. Does this mean there is something other than utter oblivion after death? I don’t know for sure, and you may think me crazy, but I there is more unexplainable power in our minds and spirits (and the universe and life) than we may logically be aware of.

Ronni
Thanks to you for what you've created here, and most especially for the family of thinkers who've been drawn to read & comment. All of you add much richness to my days, to my life, and I am grateful.
As with others, these last two posts have been important for what has been said and also for what they have lead me to ponder. Thanks.

Oh geez, Kate. I don't know what to say. That's so kind of you and it pleases me so much to know that people find some value in TGB. And you are so right about the thinkers who contribute - of which you are one. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't still be doing this blog if it were just me blathering about on the page.

Whenever I am on my knees happily weeding, this thought rushes through my mind. What if I die like the Godfather (movie) right here, right now?

Then I say to myself...at least I died doing something I love.

And then I pick the burr off my noggin and keep on keeping on.

Amen.

Whether I read your blog first thing in the morning, or last thing at night, the articles and stories stick with me, too, Ronni, esp. these about mortality.

I'm finding they make me pause, a couple of times a day, often in a moment I feel really alive, to say "Ah! Here I AM now..." Now, who's this "I" I address internally? What is her real purpose, and her relationship with the Infinite, with the purpose of the Universe, if there be one? Hmmmmm...

As I said re the first post re death, I believe and have experienced a certainty about the reality of there being another realm, but what's it's really like and how (painful)is it going to be to "get there" and what part of my consciousness gets to go on the trip---aye, there's the rub!

And my thanks too, to the other commentors---feels like a community, almost! Cheers from far northern CA...~Kathi

Your excellent post just serves to remind us, whatever age we are, that each day should be treasured. You never know when The Grim Reaper might arrive at your door. My mother gave me excellent advice some years back, when I was complaining about getting old, and which I often think of: "You'll never be any younger than you are today, so make the most of it."

I just now read this essay and the preceding one. The timing is perfect for me, too. Earlier today, after much pondering in recent weeks I finally completed a struggle writing a piece with current personal aspects related also to health care issues.

I have come to think with death we leave our body as an energy force that continues existence in some manner, but I know not what or where -- maybe ethereal in the atmosphere, universe, or cycling around to absorb memory copies we perceive from those remembering us -- could give new meaning to heaven and hell.

My philosophy which may have varied through the years is to live for today, always with hope, but plan to live forever.

Dying just is, and I'm at peace with the idea, but we'll see what the circumstances are when the time comes. I really don't want to miss the event, or knowing about all that comes to our world afterward.

Brilliant post (of course).

I don't know about you, but I've already experienced enough physical losses to know there will be plenty more. My motto is, "Do the best you can with what you have left."

How hard can it be to die? Unfortunately, the process can be very hard/painful if we're unlucky. I remember telling a minister years ago, "I'm not afraid to die." He said he was...he wasn't afraid of being dead, but he watched enough people die to be frightened of the process. Not a cheerful note, sorry about that! Let's hope for good deaths as well as for meaningful lives.

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