To be a brother to the insensible rock...the sluggish clod…*

I meditate on death and little but death. In every face, I see the eyes of a corpse, but it’s also my own corpse that I see. My body becomes cold and rigid, my skin bloodless and waxy. My eyes glaze and liquefy. My back mottles with coagulated blood. I stink and bloat until I burst. Nowhere in the universe does there exist the being that was me. After a few years, it’s as if I never lived.

I tell myself: “Death is the way of things, and is only fearful for thinking it so. Besides, death has its advantages. No more wiping my ass, going to the dentist, catching colds, cleaning dog vomit out of carpets, or a thousand other chores and maladies. And then there are the big things that death transcends, things like war, crime, cancer, accidents.”

At sixteen, death seemed mysterious and exotic, a merging of God, sex, Satan, angels, heroism, white marble, moldy crypts, dying kisses, and last words. When I was even younger, my inability to imagine my own death led me to believe I would never die. When I asked myself why others and not me, I concluded that I was the sine qua non of reality. In essence, I was God. At 63, I no longer see my death as one link in an endless chain of experiences but as a dissolution of the chain into insensate matter and insensate energy.

We are all made according to the same shabby design. Likewise, we all came from the same cold ground, and it is to this ground that we all return. That which is euphemistically called faith when the word is applied to religion is but a person’s terror of death subtracted from the ignorance and pretense needed to assuage that terror. The maintenance of this ignorance and pretense is why the suppression of dissent is characteristic of religion.

Hell would be to lie on my deathbed and look back at a life that was mean, petty, or mercenary. How odd that, given the brevity of life, our species places so much importance upon wealth, fame, power, and sensuous experiences, all things that are ultimately meaningless. What, then, can give us the strength to face death with equanimity? I believe that the best way—if not the only way other than delusion—is to practice equanimity in every situation, that and to live a life devoted to honesty, kindness, courage, wisdom, and rationality. I fail continually in all of these things, yet they remain my only salvation.

I tried to push thoughts of death away, but resistance made the nightmare stronger. Now, I say to death, “I can’t fight you. I can’t even make my body stop hurting. The ugly brown spots on my upper body continue to multiply, as do the white spots on my legs. My teeth, my vision, my hearing, my memory, my strength, my attractiveness, my ability to sleep, and a hundred other things are dying by inches even while my physical pain increases. Truly, you reign supreme.”

*from “Thanatopsis” by William Cullen Bryant.

26 comments:

Bubba said...

I look forward to a time when I can look forward to death. When it becomes something desired, instead of what I cannot accept.

Beautifully poignant post, Snow. Thanks for sharing that.

Carolyn said...

Having been quite blindsided this week, I just found this post. I too did a post the (19th) day before yours and do hope you will read it, Snowbrush. Pain is a common denominator between the two posts. Words come hard for me; maybe for you also, for I haven't before realized the depth of your struggles, physical and mental. Now I do. Try always to remember, we all are connected; what affects one bleeds over onto our connections with others. "Bleed" - a good word. My heart aches for your plight also.

I have to say it again: You are such a good writer. I just let the words spill out and splatter about as I think them; yet often hold back many thoughts - my readers surely don't need to know my "REALLY RADICAL" self. I wouldn't want to harm them.

I too think of death a lot; at times it would be so welcome. Then of necessity, I ponder the pain it would cause my connections - family specifically. Today I stand on the other side, a part of family left behind.

ellen abbott said...

I don't fear death. It's inevitable. What's the point of fearing the inevitable? Oh, but neither am I ready for it. I hope that when it is my time I will be. Beyond that, I think of death as the reverse of birth. And beyond that, why dwell on the inevitable? Better to get as much out of life while you are here. Plenty of time to contemplate death when you are dead.

That corgi :) said...

I think the older we get the more we do think about death especially when we see people around us close to our age dying and we start facing our own mortality. The fact of the matter is the odds are against us, 1/1 people die. We are born to die. None of us are guaranteed tomorrow or even the next 10 minutes. I think we need to remember that as we live our lives and be kind to each other, especially those we dearly love or dearly love us.

I wonder about the actual process of death, but I don't fear it.

Hoping everything is going okay with you.....

betty

Snowbrush said...

First off, I would say to anyone that if you want to read a great book about terminal illness and suicide, read "Last Wish" by Betty Rollin.

"I wonder about the actual process of death"

Well, there's been a lot written about it, and, of course, people meet death with very different mindsets, so I'm not sure what you're referring to, but I guess you mean what it will actually feel like when its your turn to see the world constrict until there's nothing but that long tunnel that a lot of people report passing through.

"Today I stand on the other side, a part of family left behind."

I'll definitely read your post, Carolyn. People who grow old are nearly always people who adapt to change well including--and maybe especially--the loss of loved-ones to death. Have you read the poem "Mr. Flood's Party," which is about the loneliness of an old man whose friends and family are all dead.

"I don't fear death. It's inevitable. What's the point of fearing the inevitable?"

I have never understood this point of view because it suggests that your intellect is able to control your emotions to an extent that I can't even approach. I have two questions. One is whether you're consistent about not fearing the inevitable. The second is whether you can imagine a situation that you would fear? For example, would you fear being tortured tomorrow at dawn, or being told by your doctor that you had a disease that would make the rest of your life miserable?

"I look forward to a time when I can look forward to death. When it becomes something desired, instead of what I cannot accept."

I take it that you long to long for death because it represents the ultimate escape, but that you can't presently embrace that escape. This makes me wonder what disappointments you've experienced that would lead to such a wish.

The Blog Fodder said...

How odd that, given the brevity of life, our species places so much importance upon wealth, fame, power, and sensuous experiences, all things that are ultimately meaningless. What, then, can give us the strength to face death with equanimity? I believe that the best way—if not the only way other than delusion—is to practice equanimity in every situation, that and to live a life devoted to honesty, kindness, courage, wisdom, and rationality.

A philosophy of life that everyone ought to have.

Dying (the process) scares me a little. Being dead not so much. At least we will find out which if any of all the BS we have been fed over the years is true. Problem is of course, we cannot come back and tell anyone what we have learned.

kylie said...

i dont think sensuous experience is meaningless but maybe it's a case of absence making the heart grow fonder :)

Charles Gramlich said...

I feel this one.

Strayer said...

I've watched a lot of cats die, some horribly. I thought Feather was leaving last night. This distant look came over her (she's been very ill) as the third eyelids on both eyes rose. She didn't seem here anymore. But then she rallied.

I hope to go fast, not even know it's coming. I don't want to lay around dying slowly. I don't want to rot in a nursing home either, my mind gone, but if my mind is gone, I guess I would not really know I was rotting in a nursing home. Youth is immortal exploited as such. I read a book about fighter pilots and how the air force wanted them young, the younger the better, as young pilots were fearless, as the young oft feel they are immortal and it will not be them who die, shot down in flames. By age 19, the air force deemed them old and meant by that, that by 19, the young start achieving a knowledge of mortality and will not be as daring in their flights.

Strayer said...

I think about the skeleton I am, just the flimsy skin and flesh layer hiding it. Skeletons are awkward looking and ugly.

Sometimes walking the streets, I imagine all the people I pass merely as skeletons, minus all flesh, like a chicken carcass picked completely clean, just the bones, dry and bleached white, left.

Dion said...

I've embraced the belief of reincarnation. This belief loosens death's grip while I'm still living.

I can't help but feel/believe the divine spark within myself. Or is that my Ego?

Maybe I'm using reincarnation to circumvent the fear of death.

Marion said...

I love the photo, Snow...perfect for this post! xx

Carolyn said...

Read your comment about Mt. Mitchell > left you a reply. I've yet to go on Mt. Mitchell, yet so nearby where I live.

The post/s I hoped you would read were the second and third ones down. Now I've posted a link to an article of today from CNN regarding matters in the same vein - war and the after effects.

TASHIA said...

SNOW. I Love and miss you dearly.
Do you have a Facebook account?
It would be much easier for us to keep in touch that way.

I think about you more than you know. Let me know!

-TASHIA

PhilipH said...

A beautifully written pience. Just beautiful.
Death touches us all in some way almost every day. We tend to ignore those touches. We have to, lest we go mad.
The manic slaughter in Toulouse recently. The thousands who die in parts of the world due to hunger. It is all around us.
During WWII I was just five when it began. Bombs, doodlebugs and V2 rockets blasting the houses near our house. Didn't really scare me as I knew my family and I were never going to be hit. At times it was almost good fun!

But now I know death is not far away. I've been wired up in hospital a few times with a heart problem. I know my time is drawing to an end - could be next week, next year ... but sooner than I've ever thought before. Do I care? Yes, about those I leave behind, but not about me.
When I was much younger it, death, did make me scared. Not of death but of the thought of NOTHINGNESS. I couldn't imagine nothingness. Now it's not a problem; I don't even think of nothingness.
Again Snowy, your talent as a wordsmith is simply superb.
Thanks, Phil

Joe Todd said...

Snow, as far as death is concerned I derive some pleasure in knowing so many have gone before. That really doen't make much sense but is the way it is for me.

CreekHiker / HollysFolly said...

I guess I've been thinking of death a lot lately... seeing my sister so sick and realizing my mother is 89 today...

---------
And then there are the big things that death transcends, things like war, crime, cancer, accidents.”

I remember reading when I was much younger that cancer can continue to live on embalmed flesh... EWWWW. Thus I started a trend in my family...openly talking of my desire to be cremated. While my mother agrees on a practical level - it's much much cheaper - most of the Southern family I come from are appalled! My sister once agreed and I was glad. It is she who has cancer. But she's changed her mind now that Death is holding her hand. It makes me sad to know that she will continue to feed the very thing that kills her. I'm much to vindictive... "You might kill me, but I'm taking you with me!"

Very thought provoking post Snow!

rhymeswithplague said...

Having a bad week, are we?

I don't mean to sound snarky. I apologize.

I do not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

Read First Corinthians chapter 15.

And PhilipH is right, your talent as a wordsmith is simply superb.

angela said...

At time like now, when the pain stops me from sleeping. I look forward to,death and the relief it will bring. I look forward to it as a long lost friend, one I know I will meet again some day!

Phoenix said...

I'd be lying if I said that I did not occasionally lie awake at night and fear death, fear feeling separated from those I love, particularly my mother and my fiance. I worry that I will simply cease to exist -lights out and all that - but I also worry that I will be left somewhere, alone, in the dark, with my memories of my life, for the rest of eternity. Surely, if nothing else, that last idea I have is of hell.

Snowbrush said...

"Read First Corinthians chapter 15."

The Apostle Paul? The whole chapter? Aaaarrrgh! Okay. I read it. I'm back

"If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them?"

This leaped right off the page at me as a textbook example of circular reasoning. As for the rest of it, of course, the Bible SAYS all that. It doesn't mean anything though unless you accept the authority of the Bible. Or was there something else that you wanted me to see?

" I also worry that I will be left somewhere, alone, in the dark, with my memories of my life, for the rest of eternity. Surely, if nothing else, that last idea I have is of hell."

Me too, but you're the first other person I have ever heard say it. I picture it as like lying in a coffin in the dark and silence, and being conscious like that forEVER. Whoa! THAT'S one scary thought.

A Plain Observer said...

what can give us the strength to face death with equanimity? suffering in this life, I am guessing.
I, like you, have thought about death a lot. When recently diagnosed I saw clearly a vision of my kids and my husband leaving the cemetery. It was frightening. However, when after 6 months of unbearable pain, while I laid in the operating room I was totally fine with not making it out of there. My pain would end and at that moment, death seemed like a nice escape

julie said...

I think about death...yes I do...almost daily. I don't fear afterlife...I fear how I will die as my body ages. I don't want to linger. I don't want pain, loss of senses, dementia...one of those god awful places families send us old folks when no one knows what else to do with us, where everyone is just waiting for the end..sigh...
Don't leave us yet Snow...xo

...Where have all the little follow up buttons gone?

Beau's Mom said...

Unlike the ones who 'have thought of death on occasion' I have lived the thought 24/7 which I have always assumed meant there was something morbidly wrong with my brain.

It also goes a long way to explain the popularity of religion. One must create a wonderful reward to make death a less traumatic occurrence. Promise the poor riches. Promise the meek a great inheritance. Promise the dying a lifetime in glory.

I believe I smoke in order to have a say in my death as in: hurry up, I know what it's going to be.

We need to feel SOME kind of control and I sure don't want to be killed slowly by a crazy person.

Ed Pilolla said...

somewhere in here you reigned supreme.

Heidrun Khokhar said...

Ah death is so very natural that Buddy and I often talk about our next stage after we leave our body. Our souls will be around. We are sure of it. Though no one will be able to see us we know we shall have some way to determine how we continue to exist unseen. And that has us seeking out souls of loved ones though not really consciously. Every now and then we smile and in unison we say the name of the soul that just spotted us.
Your soul will know where you are to be.