“Memento Mori” : it sounds scary, doesn’t it? It sounds morbid, doesn’t it?
But it is not. It is a cornerstone of the Stoics, and one that I feel is appropriate today whilst death has been forced into the daily consciousness due to Covid-19. It is no longer this abstract concept that no one wants to mention, or even think about. If a grandparent wishes to make plans for their death and their estate, it is seen as “unseemly”, “rude”, a “jinx”. It belongs to the realm of “we don’t speak of these (nasty) things”.
In the films, TV shows and books, death is portrayed in many ways. Very often the family or lover stands next to the bed as the last words are spoken (of course very profound), the last gasp of breath and the head lolls to the side – peaceful and content. Or there are scenes of angels hovering to lead the dearly departed to the heavens above (in Christian Countries that is). Or there are bright lights and tunnels. Harry Potter even had Kings Cross Underground station all gleaming white!
People suddenly seem to become all knowing, wise, compassionate and kind when they die; regardless of their true character. I do not wish to offend, or seem callous – but I am tired of the same characteristics that are used to eulogise the just departed – whether they have been killed in an accident, murdered, die of awful diseases (like cancer), die of problems arising from illness (especially sepsis and septic shock – I will explore these further at some point), die of deadly viral infections (Covid, Flu, etc.) and those who die by suicide. The suicide squad tend to be the anomaly in the descriptions of those that have “passed” (when did that word appear?)- another way in which to negate the idea of death. If you think about it, passed implies the person has moved on – which requires a place to start and a place to go to. It implies that we are just travelling through our life in order to go somewhere. If you are religious this could be seen as appropriate in your faith. However, it is inappropriate for those that do not have beliefs in heaven (Valhalla and others).
I got side tracked there. Suicide confounds, distresses, and confuses. It seems to automatically turn on the guilt (or at least pretence of guilt). It forces, sharply and annoyingly, one to face the reality of death. It cannot be disguised under names of illness or disease; tragic accident (always someone else’s fault of course); “act of God” such as hurricanes and tsunamis; corruption (e.g. Beirut); human rights murders and genocide.
It is what it is! (to turn the orange man overseas into a positive phrase). Death is death. That is it. You live, and one day you die. There are many ways we can die. Many reasons why. The “poor souls” who killed themselves illuminate this reality. Whilst it goes against the moral grain to do this (depending what you believe – you either go to hell or to heaven plus; and even agnostically), suicide shows that their life is in so much pain that they can no longer bear it. They do not commit this act to die, but to escape their emotions. They do not do this to anger anyone or make them “feel sorry” or regret their actions. It is because of this unbelievable anguish and despair. Unfortunately, the reality is that many of those left behind (not all) could have helped. Could have cared. Could have taken the time? Could have tried? In fact, could at least have tried. Unfortunately so many don’t – regardless if it is their colleague, friend or family. I think there quite a number of reasons why they don’t (this topic can be for another time). But there is always some level of responsibility they must acknowledge.
Back to the character speeches when someone has died. These are the standard phrases that I have heard in nearly every case. He was a wonderful father / son/ colleague … She always had time for others. He always put others first. She was so kind and thoughtful. There was nothing he wouldn’t do. She was always cheerful. Everybody loved him. She was a friend to so many people and touched so many lives in so many different ways. A reliable, hard-working, kind and considerate man. But despite his worsening illness, he never grumbled or complained about his sometimes obvious discomfort, a rare virtue in any man. She was a friend to so many people and touched so many lives in so many different ways. He had a great sense of humour, privileged to know him. A genuine, sincere, friendly fun loving lady. She was a warm, loving, generous, compassionate, understanding mother and dear friend to you all. Etc…. Etc…. Etc…. Etc…
I think that I must be living on a parallel universe. My world does not exist of all these most amazing human beings. Just listening to these makes me feel totally inadequate. I might want to, and try to be a perfect person – but don’t think I will achieve this saintly state of being. In fact, although I know quite a lot of wonderful people that I admire and love – they do not qualify for the phrases above. I know many more people who are decent, even more who can be decent. Some who are very questionable and some whom I would use the word “evil” to describe.
I am sure there are ways to state imperfections as a realisation of the person’s character in a non belittling manner. I can easily imagine a description of me including “she was not good at communication” (I am terrible); “she had Bipolar disorder and as such became depressed which could be hard to cope with.”; “Although she was awful at remembering birthdays, she cared deeply about her friends”.
Watch the news press conferences and you can see what I mean.
It feeds into this fear of death. We must say nice things – even if they are not true. We must carry on the pretence that “they” can hear us from their ethereal abode. We must leave an excellent perception of them in everyone’s lives. This is amusing as we can presume that people who will have known the deceased, actually knew that person, knew their pros and cons and foibles. So why make it up??
I had a near death experience. I think that I only knew about it because I lived. If I had died I would have “passed (haha)” with no knowledge at all. I would quite simply have ceased to exist. I cannot remember anything for about 2 weeks (I don’t know exactly). Last thing I recall was feel unwell in bed in my flat and hearing someone knocking. I think I slid across the floor on a pillow (my watch face is totally scratched., but no idea if I ever reached it. Next thing I weaved in and out of consciousness for another 10 days or so. But, I was aware of a sensation – when I was at my worst (not expected to survive).
My conclusions are: If you are in hospital it doesn’t hurt to die, you just do. There are no bells and whistles, angels or demons. It makes no distinction between people. You cannot “bribe” death to leave you alone.
Above all else it was this soft, silky, light, supportive cocoon of a warm light yellow. I have looked on the web, in my art books, my mums gardening magazines – everywhere. But I cannot find that exact shade of yellow. If that is death – I don’t mind it.