Mortality sill confounds me. If Davy Jones can die then what about the rest of us home coming queens?

THE other night we were flicking through the channels trying to find something to watch. We ended up on an old movie with Natalie Wood, who was once one of my favourite actresses. I felt so sad that she died young, and spent a moment reflecting on her brief life. We flicked again. There was Heath Ledger looking beautiful and fragile. Maybe it was because it was a Saturday night and there were so many old movies showing, but on our third try a young Burt Lancaster flashed on to the screen.

For my partner it was too much to bear. ‘‘Everyone’s dead!’’ he said, almost alarmed. For most people it never sinks in. We never get over the shock that people we love or admire die. The fact that actors and actresses are beautiful, famous and seemingly immune always fills us with more fear when they die, or get Parkinson’s like Michael J. Fox. We get a more acute sense of mortality breathing down our necks.

Part of the problem is that we live in a death-denying culture; certainly in an age-defying/denying one. Which leaves us all very exposed and vulnerable when the inevitable keeps happening. Believers in Eastern philosophy don’t behave this way. The Buddhist mantra says: ‘‘Keep death as a friend, always on your shoulder.’’ Meaning that if we know it’s there, we’ll walk with reverence and gratitude every moment we remain alive. We’ll be passionate and kind and not take anything for granted. Death denial is also life-denying because if we’re going to live forever — or, better still, if this is just a dress rehearsal and we’ll be back to do it better next time — then we fritter away time doing things that don’t inspire us.

I’ve always had a relationship with death. From a very young age I was exposed to Eastern philosophy and adopted the yogic path. I feel my choices have been better as a result. When my daughter was young, I did something unusual. I took her to India with me down the burning ghats of Varanasi along the Ganges River, where bodies are burned on big funeral pyres as part of a normal daily ritual, amid the shopping and singing and bustle of the city.

I wanted her to understand the transience of life. To get used to the idea that we die, so she could live with purpose. To pose the question I have asked myself time and again: ‘‘If I knew I was going to die tomorrow, what would I do differently today? If I knew you were going to die tomorrow, what would I do or say now?’’

It’s a hard but fulfilling way to live.

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6 Responses to Immortality

  1. Cas 9 August 2014 at 11:46 pm #

    I have just had an experience that has definitely changed my way of thinking about death. After having had what I thought were swollen lymph glands on the side of my neck, I visited my GP. He quickly sent me off for an ultrasound the following day. I went back to my GP a few hours after the ultrasound for the results I assumed would just be swollen glands. My GP sat me down and said he was very, very sorry that the results from the ultrasound were not good at all. He was seriously concerned it may be cancer of the lymph glands and I would need an urgent biopsy. I found another radiology clinic that could perform the biopsy early the next day. Needless to say I had no sleep that night and my husband and I prepared ourselves for a tough road ahead. I was in shock and disbelief that perhaps I was coming to the end of my life. I had just become a grandparent and my other daughter was due to have a baby in February. My husband and I would celebrating 40 years of life together in December. Just too much left to do and see, old friends to catch up with, my darling four children and husband to spend happy days with. The following day, I arrived for the biopsy and was prepped by the nurse and we were waiting for the Dr to arrive to do the procedure. I would be brave. The Dr arrived and asked to look at my previous ultra sound and report and then he performed his own ultrasound. He then declared that the ultrasound I had had done, was incorrect and the report was wrong. He implied that I indeed had a right to believe that based on this report my GP had received, things would have looked grim. I felt pretty shaky lying there in that room being told that a mistake had been made and I could go back to my life as before. I was in shock. I had mentally begun preparing myself to leave, that I would need to come way out of my comfort zone to prepare for an unknown solo journey ahead. I would need to help prepare loved ones for my departure and to let everyone close to me know how much I loved them. Spend precious time with loved ones and nature. Spend time surrounding myself with simple beauty. Be kind and loving and cook lots of cakes. Just keep life simple, what remained for me. So, I left the hospital dazed, called my husband and we both cried with relief. Life to me was summed up in those 24 hours, what is really important and really relevant and to keep life simple. Oh, and maybe get a second medical opinion on any serious life threatening condition.

  2. david browning 30 May 2014 at 7:03 pm #

    Death is a part of life just a life is part of death they are so closely intertwined.We can’t have one without the other..Life is birth and death is also birth to a higher dimension both events are HUGE !! Its so natural and not to be feared if deeply understood.I imagine being “Tom Smith”forever,forever unchanging ?? That would be as bad as the common belief of “death”Death is change which is the same as eternal life. Eternal change is the real immortality.

  3. David Hawkes 23 March 2012 at 2:00 pm #

    Thanks for solving a tiny problem. In the witty dialogues of the balcony scene in “Private Lives” Amanda says “..buring gars or ghats or whatever they are…”

    Now I know (after 57 years of listening to a disc of this fun) what she was referring to. Thanks Ruth.

  4. Ruth Ostrow 22 March 2012 at 7:00 pm #

    Thank you Kim what a beautiful optimistic letter

  5. Kim Oxley 19 March 2012 at 6:03 pm #

    Aged 53, I’m in an era of women who stopped in shock at the news of losing Davy Jones. The same sort of shock came when I was told I had a serious breast cancer, 7 years ago. Then a year later, to be told my husband had rare pancreatic cancer and would die within the year. That was 6 years ago. We are going well. I’m about to volunteer as a palliative care worker with the elderly to get my head around death and life. Cancer always seem to bring the expectation of “what are you going to change” as if something you were doing really, truly, was the cause of this merciless disease. I am able to say ‘no, thank you’ with more ease now, so that is one thing I do differently, these days. Talking about death is a healthy thing, yet our society just can’t face it. This is a good subject to raise, Ruth! As always, you are on the button.

  6. nomadd 19 March 2012 at 4:04 pm #

    I too have been to Varanasi on the Ganges River and thoroughly enjoyed the visit. although I am an atheist I love the attitude of Hindu Indians.

    They do not worry about the current life in this world and look forward to a better life next time around. I found they accept life no matter how poverty stricken they are, very few seek a better way of life, they are so confident about their fatalistic attitude to the next life.

    I think the West would be much better off if they accepted a similar attitude to life and death. Why worry about death, we all have to die – so what?
    Just accept death as easy as you accept a new birth, or like the rise of the sun every day.

    There is no use crying over death. In one thousand years time nobody will remember any of the current nine billion population living on earth at present. This brings you down to earth with a jolt and stops you fantasising.

    Homo sapiens are not that important, they only think they are. Look at the night sky and survey the billions of stars, in comparison we don’t exist!

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