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Mortality

Watch your husband. If you are lucky—should he die in your presence—scoop him up and shovel him into the cellar; give him the kiss of half-life to keep his circulation going; stick a needle full of blood anti-coagulant into him; then cool his body with ice packs which you should have prepared earlier. Wrap him in blankets and freeze him with dry ice to minus 150 degrees Farenheit. Now move him into a capsule of liquid nitrogen which will freeze him to minus 320 degrees but—and this is the hard part—don’t drop him, for should he accidentally slip to the floor (cold cellar tiles, frozen spouse), he will shatter like a ton of glass—a million icy shards of husband everywhere—terrible mess.Then, rest in hope that cryonics, or “cryopreservation”—using extreme cold to preserve “living” tissue—will keep him intact until future medical skills can de-ice him and reverse the cause of his death, whether the icky ticker, the organ moribund, the circling C of cancer cells, curling like a finger, beckoning. (You say he died of old age? Nonsense. It is not legal to die of old age, no death certificate can say that; you must die in a clinical category.)

Of course, people have always wanted life after death, in heaven or in books, through fame or through their children.
-Jay Griffiths, A Sideways Look at Time.

In the PBS Documentary The Mormons, prominent intellectual Harold Bloom stated:

Of all religions that I know, the one that most vehemently and persuasively defies and denies the reality of death is the original Mormonism of the prophet, seer and revelator Joseph Smith.

Out of the whole documentary, this statement is what most stuck with me, perhaps because I’ve been pondering my own mortality as well as how I might cope with the death of, say, my husband. Joseph Smith seemed fairly concerned with death–many of the revelations he sought and recieved seemed to be well-suited to ease his anxiety over death. It is easier in many ways to believe that those things we are attached to . . . our bodies, our families, our friends, will continue on just as they are now.

On the show Six Feet Under , which looks at myriad ways people deal with death, and with living, a grieving woman asks the funeral director, “Why do people have to die?” His answer: “To make life important. None of us know how long we’ve got, which is why we have to make each day matter.”

A while ago I took a class on all the various aspects of aging. The professor started off the class by asking us, “If you could take a magic pill that would make you live until you’re 150, would you?”

Some in the class answered that of course they would. Others considered that the relationships that make life meaningful would all be gone by then, so it might not be worth it. Still others said that they might become lazy, knowing they had much more time to live out their life. A sense of urgency or responsibility might be lost. As much as the capriciousness and unpredictability of death might frighten me, knowing the exact age I would die stirs in me an even greater unease. Not knowing spurs me to make each moment count, to be here in this moment, every moment.

I can’t say how I will react when major tragedy and loss comes into my life, as it most inevitably will. Nor can I say how I will feel when my own death seems sooner rather than later. I’m sure it will test and transform me in ways I cannot currently conceive. However, I think facing into the abyss rather than closing my eyes to it is what will ultimately help me do what work I have here and now. I am grateful for this limited, mortal body I have. The fleeting fragility and tenuousness of life, like a short-lived butterfly or spring flower, is what makes it most beautiful and precious.

What do you think of Harold Bloom’s statement?

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  1. Mark IV says:

    Good post, AmyB. Mortality is a odd thing that we need to somehow make sense of. I’ve been to funerals of people younger than I, and I’ve read obituaries of mission companions who died in accidents and left a wife and six children.

    Have you ever read Tuck Everlasting? When my father died, it hit me pretty hard. A woman in the ward gave me that book, and it helped a lot. Even though it’s a children’s book, it explores death and immortality. I now recommend it to everone.

  2. Beck says:

    My mother-in-law told me how her sister was frustrated with their 96-year-old mother because she is so afraid of death. My MIL’s response was, “The only reason we’re NOT afraid is because it isn’t staring us in the face. Wait until YOU are 96.”

    That’s so true. I always think that I won’t be afraid to die. Sure, I’ll miss the people around me, but it will only be for a moment until they join us. But now that I’ve thought about it, If I thought I only had a few days left, a few weeks, even a few YEARS left, I would probably be terrified. Despite my faith in an afterlife, even.

  3. AmyB says:

    Mark, I don’t think I’ve read Tuck Everlasting. Thanks for the recommendation.

    Beck, you have a good point. Death seems a very far way off– when it seems closer I’m sure I’ll feel differently than I do now. I’m fascinated by things like The Tibetan Book of the Dead, which includes instruction for lifelong practice for dying. All I know for now is that the contemplation of it has made me see living more vividly.

  4. Tigersue says:

    I am not sure being afraid of death is the real problem. I think if you ask anyone of us that has faith in the afterlife existing, death is not what we really fear. I think like everything else in mortality we fear the unknown. I think Joseph Smith was correct in stating one of the most important things we could study is death and dying. Why is that? To help us understand what happens so we don’t fear it. When my Grandmother was dying my Aunt Said my grandmother was afraid of going to sleep because she was afraid she would not wake up. That struck me so funny because after all the mortal body will not wake but the spirit moves on.

  5. Deborah says:

    “The fleeting fragility and tenuousness of life, like a short-lived butterfly or spring flower, is what makes it most beautiful and precious.”

    Beautiful, Amy.

    I think it’s a testament to the human and divine within us that death continues to feel so surprising, so unexpected — and, very often, so *unfair.* After all, aside from other bodily functions, death is *the* inescapable reality of mortality. Yet I’m stunned when a relative develops cancer and I cry over the deaths of strangers — soldiers, refugees, people I only know through NPR and CNN.

    Do I fear death? I don’t know that I’d attach the word “fear” — and I suppose I credit that to my stubborn faith in the eternal soul. I really do believe this is just a slice of Life. But the closer I become to my husband, the more I plead for reprieve from a “premature” death. I suppose I will feel that even more when I have kids — ya know, “they *need* me, here and now.”

    By the way, Tuck Everlasting is about a family who accidentally drinks from the fountain of youth — they can’t die. The father tries to explain to Winnie why this isn’t such a good thing:

    “Dying is part of the wheel, right there next to being born. You can’t pick out the pieces you like and leave the rest. Being part of the whole thing, that’s the blessing. But it’s passing us by, us Tucks. Living’s heavy work, but off to one side, but the way we are, it is useless, too. If I knew how to climb back on the wheel, I’d do it in a minute. You can’t have living without dying. So you can’t call it living, what we got. We just are, we just be, rocks beside the road.’

  6. Caroline says:

    I’m afraid of dying – more so than I ever was before. I think part of it is that I’ve got little E to take care of now, and I want to be around to see him grow up.

    I’m also afraid of dying because I don’t know what will happen in the afterlife. Will I be with Mike, when I’m not really a very orthodox Mormon, and Mike is? Is it actually possible for two people who are so different to be together eternally? I sometimes have a hard time believing we will be…

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