Sunday, January 11, 2009
The Sunset of Life
One word that many try to avoid is DEATH. While it is not something that we often talk about, it is something that lurks in the background as we enter the sunset of life.
Recently there have been many stories published on the Story Telling Place on Ronni's blog, TGB, recounting deaths in the family and it started me thinking about the subject.
My first thought was of the famous quote by Clive James: "Nobody gets out of this world alive." Death comes to all in it's own time.
Why the fear of death? I suppose it's the unknown. Earliest man feared what happened after we die and superstitious beliefs were created to take away the fear with stories of an afterlife. Man doesn't want to leave this beautiful world or our loved ones, so there has to be something better that makes it worthwhile. Mythology is full of stories about a better life after death. The concept of heaven and hell were borrowed from Greek Mythology.
Death is a major factor in all religions. Historians state that the Resurrection story is the biggest reason that Christianity survived. Different religions have a different concept of what happens after we die, but they all share the central belief that the next world will be better. (At least for the good people; sinners go to Hades or Hell.) It brings comfort to the bereaved to think that their loved ones have gone to a better place and are reunited with their dead ancestors.
My Great Aunt was a member of a sect called Unity and they believed in reincarnation. Other religions share this belief and for some time I wanted to believe in that. (Of course, I wanted to come back into a family of rich, loving parents and I would be beautiful and talented next time around.) I gave up that belief when my daughter pointed out that there were an awful lot of extra people on Earth. (As I constantly remind people, I am pragmatic. Therefore, her analysis made good sense.)
Whatever your belief or religion, it takes a leap of faith to believe. If Houdini wasn't able to come back and tell us about it, I doubt that we will ever know the answer of whether there is an afterlife or not until we die.
If any of you believe in ghosts or amorphous beings floating around and it comforts you, please continue to do so. I am too skeptical by nature and have never felt the presence of one who has gone before. Believe me, I would like to think I have a guardian Angel who is looking after me. I just can't get over the feeling that this is a wish and not a reality.
When I broke my hip and was sitting on the floor I was afraid I would be there for days before anyone missed me. The thought came unbidden, "I wonder how long it takes to die." At that point I knew I didn't want to die yet and so I started trying to figure out how to get myself out of the pickle I was in. Obviously, I was successful.
Now I wonder if I will ever be ready to die. I do not want to be the oldest woman alive (Did you see the story on the Canadian woman who is 117 years old?), but I do want to keep enjoying life as long as I am able to care for myself. I do not fear death but, borrowing from Robert Frost, "I have miles to go and promises to keep before I sleep".
The word 'sleep' in that quote is an example of the euphemisms we use to avoid the word DEATH. Many say "he passed on" or simply "he passed". Obituaries state that the deceased went to be with his Lord. Why is it so hard to say, "He died."? I think that using the word death makes it final and harder to deal with. DEATH is a frightening word to many.
David Brooks wrote an editorial on this theme and told of a near death experience that Neuhaus wrote about. His great theme was the way death has a backward influence back onto life: “We are born to die. Not that death is the purpose of our being born, but we are born toward death, and in each of our lives the work of dying is already under way.”
When I was in my seventh month of pregnancy my husband was in the center of an explosion that demolished the house he was working in. He later told me of a near death experience he had when his heart stopped in the Emergency Room for a minute. I will recount it here: "He was walking down a long hall that had no doors, but caskets were lined up along the wall with cadavers in them. He was in no hurry - there was no feeling of time - and as he strolled along he would look in the caskets and, finding no one he knew, he continued toward a great light at the end of the hall." He believed that if he had made it to the light he would have died. I was horrified when he told his story because I was young. Now I try to explain it and I can't. Was he aware that he was near death and his mind made a dream of what he thought death would be? Are near death experiences real or just a product of the most emotional experience we will ever have?
I have come full circle on my thoughts on the subject and am anxious to read your comments. I realize I have written about a very touchy theme. Politics and religion are dangerous subjects, but since I have tackled the first I guess I may as well live dangerously and tackle the second.
P. S. The sunset photo was in my camera when I fell and I just uploaded it. I did not enhance the color; if anything, the sunset was even redder than the photo. It's all that dust in the air.