I watched an interesting episode last night on the PBS station I regularly watch having to do with something no one likes to talk about–death, mine, yours, everyone. I could only stay up for the first hour but found it quite fascinating how these people discussed this voodoo topic with such ease.
Until I was faced with my own death, or the prospect of it when I had my stroke, I didn’t like thinking about it either. Heck, I was in the Army National Guard and refused to think about it–let alone confront it. I experience my own sense of mortality November 21, 2002 when I laid in the ER and saw my mother come in to see how I was doing. I realized at that very moment it could possibly be the last and I cried out for her forgiveness because I refused to yield to her endearments to quit drinking and smoking.
The episode started with the citing of Dylan Thomas’ “Do not go gently into that good night.” It is what we must strive to fight until there is no fight left in our souls. Rage against death like it’s a prize-fight and there could be only one winner. It is of course a mute testimony since the outcome is always death.
Growing up in East Wenatchee I saw more than my fair share of death. It mostly came in the guise of witnessing a dog get run over. I was four when I witnessed a labrador retriever get run over. Then, I loss my dog Herman, a Pointer. He was poisoned. My Kindergarten teacher told Mom that there was no afternoon session because the President was dead. That was November 22, 1963. Dad had gone to see Grandma down in San Francisco. She died from cancer on that day too.
I knew about death and for the longest time was scared to death by it. I wondered at night and couldn’t sleep, thinking what if I died? What would happen to me?
I never had any illusions as to what death was. It wasn’t make-believe, or Hollywood. Death is very much a final act. Yet, our society refuses to accept that which is inevitable. A mortician told how she was awakened to the concept of death as a young child, witnessing another young girl fall to her death from an escalator. She became so obsessed by it, she made it her passion and life work. She described in detail about the business of death, from her perspective, and how liberating it all is for her.
When my parents died in 2009, death was a mystery and with the rites associated with the process of mourning and acceptance, an alien practice not performed regularly, like I’m sure was back in the day some one hundred, two hundred, or more years ago. Then, people died from a common cold, war, and pesulance. People were buried on top of other people because there wasn’t room in the crypts or cemeteries. Crematorium were invented to take care of the overcrowding. Ashes, after all, you could dispose of them, honor their memories by placing inside an urn and showcasing them on a mantle or credenza, or placing them inside a mausoleum.
I’m more accepting of that final journey; the road not taken, as Robert Frost put it. But, I have miles to go before I sleep.