ELDER MUSIC: Classical Predilections 8
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What Others Say About Death – Take Two

Barely two months after I was told I have pancreatic cancer and one month after the Whipple surgery, I posted a story of quotations from people ancient and modern about death.

Now that I am coming up on two-and-a-half years since then during which time I have gained even a more up close and personal relationship with my own death, I wondered if my choices of quotations that speak to me have changed.

There are a dozen or so quotations about death in that post and I must say that looking back with newly educated eyes on the subject, I did a pretty good job of selection. But there are a few that take on a stronger resonance now.

This one because death is serious but should not be somber:

”Life does not cease to be funny when people die any more than it ceases to be serious when people laugh.” - George Bernard Shaw

Because I know even better now that this one is so too:

“A dying man needs to die, as a sleepy man needs to sleep, and there comes a time when it is wrong, as well as useless, to resist.” – Stewart Alsop

Because death is a prerequisite to continued life on Earth:

"It is life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new.” - Steve Jobs (who died of pancreatic cancer in 2011, eight years after diagnosis)

I have always liked quotations. I keep running lists of them by topic, adding those that are new (to me) as they turn up. This one, that sits in a small frame on my desk, is from Albus Dumbledore, the head master of Hogwarts school in the Harry Potter series of books:

”Call him Voldemort, Harry. Always use the proper name for things. Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.”

Exactly. It is why, at this blog, we use the word “old” instead of such euphemisms as “golden-ager”, for example, and “death” instead of “passed” or “demise.”

The 29 months since my cancer diagnosis have given me a lot of time to think about the death sentence it puts me under. Dying is no longer an abstract idea I can pretend is far in the future anymore.

So here are a few more quotations about death that have stuck with me since I found them (or they found me).

”While I thought that I was learning how to live, I have been learning how to die.” - Leonardo da Vinci
”Death smiles at us all, all a man can do is smile back.” - Marcus Aurelius
”If life must not be taken too seriously, then so neither must death. - Samuel Butler

This next one opens up a world of speculation to ponder and play with about death.

”Death is only the end if you assume the story is about you.” - Welcome to Night Vale (Podcast)
”Death is a law, not a punishment.” - Jean Dubos
”I was discovering that I was not afraid of death; rather, I was in awe of it.” - Kathryn Mannix
”Do not seek death. Death will find you. But seek the road which makes death a fulfillment.” - Dag Hammarskjold

The first half of Hammarskjold's quotation is a good lead-in to a story about death that I have liked since I first read it when I was a kid and have posted it here before (all good stories deserve repetition).

From W. Somerset Maugham in 1933, The Appointment in Samarra as told by Death.

”There was a merchant in Baghdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me. “She looked at me and made a threatening gesture, now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me.

“The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went.

“Then the merchant went down to the marketplace and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning?

“That was not a threatening gesture, I said, it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Baghdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.”

Now it is your turn. Do you have any quotations about death and dying you want to post here?


A poem by ~Thich Nhat Hanh

This body is not me.
I am not limited by this body.
I am life without boundaries.
I have never been born,
and I have never died.
Look at the ocean and the sky filled with stars,
manifestations from my wondrous true mind.
Since before time, I have been free.
Birth and death are only doors through which we pass,
sacred thresholds on our journey.
Birth and death are a game of hide- and seek.
So laugh with me,
hold my hand,
let us say good-bye,
say good-bye, to meet again soon.
We meet today.
We will meet again tomorrow.
We will meet at the source every moment.
We meet each other in all forms of life.
~Thich Nhat Hanh

This quote by Mary Roach, author of "Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife" best reflects my thoughts about dying...

"I don't fear death so much as I fear its prologues: loneliness, decrepitude, pain, debilitation, depression, senility. After a few years of those, I imagine death presents like a holiday at the beach."

Ronni, I have been maintaining a (huge) list of quotes for years & years. Here are some of my favorites re: death/dying:

There is no cure for birth and death save to enjoy the interval.
-- George Santayana

If I had my life to live over again, I would form the habit of nightly composing myself to thoughts of death. I would practice, as it were, the remembrance of death. There is not another practice which so intensifies life. Death, when it approaches, ought not to take one by surprise. It should be part of the full expectancy of life.
-- Muriel Sarah Spark

Death plucks my ears and says, "Live—I am coming."
-- Virgil

Life is a spark between two identical voids, the darkness before birth and the one after death.
-- Irvin David Yalom

Life is pleasant. Death is peaceful. It's the transition that's troublesome.
-- Isaac Asimov

Every moment of life is the last, every poem is a death poem.
-- Matsuo Bashō

Death destroys a man: the idea of Death saves him.
-- E. M. Forster

If you are afraid of death, you are afraid of life, for living your life leads to death. Until you face death and see its beauty, you will be afraid to really live-–you will never properly burn the candle for fear of its end.
-- Doris Haddock AKA "Granny D"

It requires more courage to suffer than to die.
-- Napoleon Bonaparte

....and T.S. Eliot ~

I think: when we dream, reality and our expectations for it start to crumble, words and sounds start to fall apart. And this is the place of great exploration. To grab hold of the vanishing song, to live it and breathe it just as it begins to slip away.

Old men ought to be explorers
Here or there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
Old men should be explorers, because the breaking down of things is as much a cause for joy as it is a cause for compassion. If nothing ever broke down, nothing could ever be itself — it would always be a carbon copy of what came before. It’s in their deterioration, you could say, that things become real. But to appreciate this truth rather than to fear it requires that we find some stillness in our lives, as Eliot’s poem also suggests. The adventurousness that we hope to find in the face of impermanence begins with the stillness that gives things permission to break down. Everyday, everything is dying. We have a choice to call this the beginning of a great adventure.

I don't know where I first read or heard it, but we're all "born dying" has stuck with me.

I suspect many of us are and will be quoting you Ronni. Love all these quotes, have seen most and they always comfort... and some entertain.

Death is what makes life fun.
-Billy Collins

A couple of days ago I came across a serious automobile accident by just a very few minutes after it happened. I did not witness it, but there were no emergency responders there yet, nor could I hear sirens. Air bag mist was still in the air and steam came from the hood of at least one of the cars, and debris was strewn around all over. The only people at the scene were a couple of men who apparently arrive on the scene even sooner than I did and said that they had called for help. There was really nothing else I could do, so I carefully navigated my way through the scene and drove on to my destination. The next day I learned that a 76 year old male driver of one vehicle had died at the scene, and that an as yet unidentified other driver (I saw the face of a young man in the second car when I passed through the intersection) suffered life-threatening injuries. It is this sort of thing that frightens me much more than the culmination of my life in old age, especially if I am diagnosed with a terminal illness at some point. The disruption to so many people's lives regardless of whether I lived or died after such an accident, the pain and recovery, rehab, the possibility that I might have been responsible for such a thing simply terrify me.

The only quote that comes immediately to mind is still the one by Thornton Wilder that I believe I've used here before: "My advice to you is not to inquire why or whither, but just enjoy your ice cream while it's on your plate." Unfortunately that accident scene still haunts me and I find I'm not enjoying my ice cream as much right now.

I lost my hero, my dad , when, I was eight. He was 42. My mom broke down and spent most of her time in bed. Naturally, I was pretty introverted. For Christmas some relative gave me a gift. It was a sign that said "DON'T TAKE LIVE SO SERIOUSLY. YOU WILL NEVER GET OUT OF IT ALIVE."
Some people thought it was pretty funny. Somehow I failed to see the humor of it at that time. I am now turning 88 and have periodically tried to discover more about death. I once read about a child asking an adult "What happens when a person dies." and the answer was
"Nobody has ever came back and told us." I do believe that every thing is connected and death is part of that connection. I have lost many people at this point. Missing them is probably the worst part of death. Margaret

I find it interesting that you dwell on "death". Yes, I know that a "sentence" of pancreatic cancer is normally considered a "death sentence". My beautiful sister-in-law died exactly one year after a similar diagnosis at the very young age of 51.

At 95, I may be closer to the "end" than you; since I do believe with your attitude you will be here for a long time. But, my suggestion -- that ain't worth much -- is to quit blogging about dying and blog more about living. Go for a period of six months or so without mentioning that subject.

I do not know if that is possible with such a horrible diagnosis such as yours. But, I enjoy your upbeat blogs more, the ones that deal with all the good things about living. Of course, I should follow my own advice and quit blogging about the current administration and blog more about the "good old times", pre-2017 in late January.

No matter, I enjoy your blogs; especially your Saturday offerings, parts of which I always re-post. They seem to be full of living life to the fullest.

I love the Zen view, hence Diane's quote of Thich Nhat Hanh poem. And my Zen teachers have taught that we are mistaken when we think our bodies end at our fingertips; that there is Only the One Thing, and that the multiplicity of creation is Divinity giving itself company, hence, we are all part of God (whatever your concept of that is). In fact, the Buddhist sages tell us that we are NOT only part of the whole, rather, we are, EACH of us, also the entire whole. On the one hand, each of us is, by definition, a point of view. On the other, we are all the whole, and are never alone.

Here's another Thich Nhat Hanh quote:

"Enlightenment is when the wave realizes it is the ocean.”

I'm print this, mount it and put it up on my wall.
“Because I can count on my fingers the number of sunsets I have left, and I don't want to miss any of them.” ― Suzanne Collins, Catching Fire

William Cullen Bryant’, considered an American nature poet and journalist composed “Thanatopsis”, the meaning of which is “a consideration of death.” We were required to memorize these final lines in high school that have always stuck with me:

“So live, that when thy summons comes to join
The innumerable caravan, that moves
To that mysterious realm, where each shall take
His chamber in the silent halls of death,
Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,
Scourged to his dungeon, but sustained and soothed
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave,
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.”

I think this fits on this thread, even though it is not exactly on point. I hope no one minds.

Because of knowing Ronni and other experiences, I've long been very careful to write "die" and "death" rather than any of the euphemisms.

But in the last two weeks, two people in close proximity to me have died. Peaceful-ish deaths both. By accident of place, I've had to be the person who told this news to quite a few others. I have found myself using "passed " during this task. It just felt right. Does this resonate?

All worthy--and many pithy--comments. I do not fear dying but do fear what I may have to endure to get there. I hope my death is quick and as peaceful as possible. Don't we all? In any event it is what it is.

There are many good quotes here. As a Buddhist, I agree with the Dalai Lama who said:

“As a Buddhist, I view death as a normal process, a reality that I accept will occur as long as I remain in this earthly existence. Knowing that I cannot escape it, I see no point in worrying about it. I tend to think of death as being like changing your clothes when they are old and worn out, rather than as some final end.”

I also like this quotation by Virgil, the Roman poet: “Death twitches my ear. ‘Live,’ he says. ‘I am coming.”

Sorry, Ronni, I had not read your original post on quotations and just saw that you also had quoted Virgil there. Am pleased that we both liked it.

Perhaps not entirely on topic ?

Why were you born when the snow was falling?
You should have come to the cuckoo's calling,
Or when grapes are green in the cluster,
Or, at least, when lithe swallows muster
For their far off flying
From summer dying.

Why did you die when the lambs were cropping?
You should have died at the apples' dropping,
When the grasshopper comes to trouble,
And the wheat-fields are sodden stubble,
And all winds go sighing
For sweet things dying.

Christina G. Rossetti, "A Dirge"

My heart and mind are too full to really comment other than these are the folks who did not vote the monster in chief into office. I am privileged to be a part of this blog and oh I count my blessings. I learn and grow from these posts; I become more.

Cathy...car accident viewer. I was a car accident person and had my life changed dramatically so I felt your horror of that, of being a part of that sadness and fear of causing and fear of living with the aftermath if in an accident. Yes, all that prelude before death.

You are all wonderful....keep living. Keep our eyes toward living. Ronnie your blog on death points us in the direction of living. Fully. Until?



A man asked a Zen master: "What happens after you die?"
He replied: "Don't know."
"Why not?"
"Not dead yet."

Ronni I have a poem for you written . by Ursula Le Guin.....these poems in a book called So Far, So Good were mailed to her publisher four days before her death.

Desire and Fear
A willingness to die is my desire
not of the mind alone
But of the weary heart and weakened bone
My fear is that the body always wanting more
will clutch at flames of fire
sooner than leave me free to go
on through the open door.

Another Buddhist dropping a well-loved chant on the page. Zen deals with reality, life moment by moment. I find this enormously comforting:

I am of the nature to grow old.
There is no way to escape growing old.

I am of the nature to have ill health.
There is no way to escape ill health.

I am of the nature to die.
There is no way to escape death.

All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change.

There is no way to escape being separated from them.

My actions are my only true belongings.

I cannot escape the consequences of my actions.

My actions are the ground upon which I stand.

(From: The Plum Village Chanting, by Thích Nhất Hạnh)

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