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Life with Lavendar in London town

Friday, 15 January 2010

'Till Death Do Us Part

I think about death regularly. I think about my death and how I would like it to be. I think about my husband's death, my family members, my friends. I think about what it might be like to die and how it might feel. If I am thinking about the death of someone close to me, I wonder how I will feel once they have shifted off this mortal coil and I am left without their presence in my life.

My husband thinks I am obsessed. Whenever I bring up the topic he rolls his eyes and groans. Our death talks have become a comedy double act.

I don't know what his problem is. Life and death are a complete package. In one hand you hold life, and in the other - death. I might not even know you but there is one incontrovertible fact I do know about you. That you will die. It strikes me as strange that our society gives so much airtime to life and brushes death under the carpet.

Mind you I wasn't always of this opinion. I blame it on a Danish beatnik hippy called Ingvar who suggested that I read The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying.

It'll change your life, he said.

I was nineteen, still young and green. He was thirty two, had a cool leather jacket and had travelled the world so I presumed he knew what he was talking about. It turned out that he was right. Prior to that I hadn't given much thought to death. Afterwards I thought about it a hell of a lot more, meaning that I actually thought about it rather than ignoring it or holding it as apart from me. I realised that the great thing about acknowledging death is that it means you are also acknowledging life.

Lately death has been in my thoughts even more than usual. One of the closest people to me on this Earth has recently diagnosed with cancer. The prognosis is good and I am not expecting him to cark it any time soon. What he has to endure though is six months of chemotherapy and some major life shifts. Having to reflect on his mortality has made me examine what I would sacrifice in order to assist him in the road back to health. What is the fight I am prepared to put up on his behalf?

The answer has surprised me. But what a lovely surprise for both of us. It turns out that our friendship is as strong as I always suspected.

Nothing like a bit of death on the horizon to find out what's important to you in life.


Anonymous said...

I knew an Ingvar once. Worth his weight in gold, and more. You can always count on an Ingvar.

As far as our society giving so much airtime to life, I don't believe it does. So much of our time is devoted to death, through popular culture, high arts, religion, politics....you name it. They way we choose to deal with it is through the schlock treatment (Slasher Films), prettying up death (most hollywood fare), turning it into slapstick, or marginalising it as an unnatural event that can be eternally stalled. This is not brushing it under the carpet- it's impossible to do so. It's like trying to navigate around a massive continent while pretending it's not actually there.

Lavendar Lee said...

So more like the elephant in the room that no-one talks about?

Anonymous said...

Nnnnnottt quite... I'd stick with the original metaphor, because an elephant is something we know, we see, we feel, we hear, we understand, and even if we are not talking about it, we know what we're not talking about. The western approach to death (the only one I really know well enough to comment fairly on) is an attempt to build security through a childlike conceit that we know so much about it that we can belittle it.

It's kind of like the way that children use "swear words", or smoke, as a way of showing that they have more control of their environment, by doing things that they know are "forbidden". They are rebelling against the order of things in a way that they have no real understanding, yet understanding that it will have no real impact at the same time.

It's pretty much the same deal with turning the concept of death from a natural event into any assortment of options:
-a blocked off realm that needs to be avoided at all costs
- an unnatural event that should terrify us
-cheap entertainment for the masses (usually in a comic form)
-an ugly event that needs to be hidden and/or made more palatable

Much of this seems related to the concept of marketing in retrospect.

Returning to the continent metaphor, we don't know how to get around the thing, it is there, it won't move, and we know nothing of it, but we keep pretending it's not there. Well, that presents a problem- easily solved if you're a navigator moving around continents(open your eyes!). Not so easy to solve for philosophers dealing with death. Maybe the Tibetans are better at navigating death- I really should read that book.