Wednesday, February 22, 2012

On Death and Dying

Death. Funny thing.

It has caused me a lot of heart burn. Ironically, barring the loss of one guy I was kind of eyeing for a while, I have never really experienced the grief of death from close quarters. Yet, it feels like I have always been thinking about it.

I remember a time when I was a silly nine- year old (I really was silly at the time), and I suddenly got the fear of death – not of myself, but of near ones. Parents, to be precise.  For around a couple of months, I would lock my door or wake up in the middle of the night and start crying – crying that someday they will not be here with me.

I wonder if what made me cry was the thought of missing them or the guilt and regret that I never had given them my best at all, being the problem child I was. I wish I could say, later I grew up and got over it but no, I do not think that was what happened. But then, hey, who grows past death? Really? That mature? Envy them.

What happened was I became good at suppression of thought. One solid defense mechanism that has gotten the majority of us through this far – suppression – pushing a thought away from the conscious mind. Some say it goes to the subconscious and stays there forever but hey, who cares – get out of my sight – out of sight, out of mind.

Down the lane, a different set of concerns emerged. I started getting paranoid of my own death. If I lost weight, I would think I had cancer. If my scalp pained, I would get paranoid that I was having a tumor. If the flight shook, I would be positive we were going to go down into the sea. On one such eventful flight, the man next to me was amused.

“Why so scared? Big deal – if we had to go, we got to go!”, he said looking matter-of-fact.

I stared at him

“Yeah, I know if we have to go, we got to go; I know that. The point is, I don’t want to go. I know I cannot change the course of disaster – I am only mourning it”

And then, I asked him, “If you knew positively that this flight was going down, wouldn’t you react in a grievous manner? Or would you just smile and let it pass?”

He was surprisingly quick to say “I will accept it as my fate”


Accept it, we got to. Not that we have a choice – since God is a thinker and all that. But accept it with a smile – I think I won’t. Some say that the few minutes before a sure death, we will go all sober, have flashing thoughts of an entire life, remember loved ones and get a sudden serene sense of calm. I doubt if I would do that. Had I known that day that the flight was definitely going down, I would have made sure I spent the last few minutes grumbling and furiously cursing to that guy next seat and loudly sworn at the higher power that it was the most fucked up plan ever!

Somehow it seems there is so much to do. Anything stopping the course of progress must be a serious blunder in the divine schedule – like an absent minded winged creature striking off the wrong name in a fit of drowsiness. The plenty of lives that were taken in sudden episodes – had they felt that they had a lot of unfinished business too or were they overtaken by a sudden sense of sufficiency before the end? Too bad we can never know. 


Anonymous said...

If you knew positively that this flight was going down, wouldn’t you react in a grievous manner? Or would you just smile and let it pass

Hypothetical question - I can never answer that with certainty.

If the question was, "... how would you accept it?" Then I'd probably say, "I'll accept it with good grace".

I've often wondered about what death row prisoners feel / think when they are just being led to their death?

The fact that such thoughts occur to most of us, shows the morbid fascination that death holds for us. For an atheist / agnostic thoughts of death are, perhaps, more difficult to deal with because the present life would seem so meaningless. Thank God for suppression. (Pun was totally unintended.)

PS: *shudder* at thought of death - I've still not been able to come to terms with it.

Tangled up in blue... said...

You know, when I was a really small kid, I just believed that my parents were invincible folk who'd never die. When I grew older and wiser, I began to fear that eventuality because I always wondered how I'd survive without them. That was how grief really figured in my mind. I feared not the dying, but the not-living.

There's a lovely short story by Arthur C. Clarke which has an immortal race of aliens that observe planet earth from a distance and marvel at the existence of a sentient intelligent self-aware life form like the human species and how we can live so joyfully and completely when we know we are inching ever closer to our deaths. When I read that, it was the first time I actually gave that idea any real thought and was rather astonished at it myself.

We have amazing self-preservation mechanisms, I must say.

And now that I work in a hospital, and have seen the reality of death and how matter-of-fact death can be, I sometimes struggle to reconcile what my rational brain tells me is a physiological necessity with the profundity of the grief felt at the loss of life.

There's a scene in Dead Poets' Society which I watched last night, where a teacher shows a group of eager young schoolboys an old photo of schoolboys their age who are now all dead and says, "They were just as alive as you once. Now they're fertilising daffodils! Boys, we're all gonna end up as worm food. But that's not the tragedy. The tragedy is dying without having gotten any living done."

I think I'll agree with those wise words. :D

Tangled up in blue... said...

And I'm sorry if I rambled on a little in that comment there, but when faced with the bigger picture view of things, I never know exactly how much to say about anything.

harishsram said...

@tangled up in blue - i liked that line you quoted - "the tragedy is dying without having gotten any living done" - imo it summaries the plot point of this article - well in a different trajectory.

Will there be anyone who will die happy that they have done everything they wanted to do? wont there be anything left for them to do? maybe we wont come to terms with that possibility coz we are running fast in our lives to do everything we set out to do. Maybe we channelise our energy only to do what we want & not on enjoying what we have. At 24 i maybe wrong here too. A sexagenarian might enjoy life whole heartedly unlike how we presume we do. So, suppose one were to die then it would be a peaceful one.

@sinduja ur personality or to be precise the one you project through written medium keeps me amazed as always. I would love for this pleasant surprise to continue in which ever platform you want to unveil it.

Vicky Dada (Vikas) said...

Death has the biggest preoccupation of mankind ever - his biggest of mysteries, even bigger than God himself.

Somebody fucked up and I was born. I lived a fucked up life.. now you say dying seems fucked up too.

CHIBI said...

it's a bit sensitive to me, as i am a death'o'phobia person.. so my comment might be funny or even stupid.

i really think god's sometimes fuck up too, remember this rajini movie "adhisaya piravi" where yemadharma takes his life by mistake and rajini goes to yemalogam demanding he give his life back.. even though it's a fiction.. what if that happens in real life.. when someone dies and god goes "oops"..! we should probably have the right to appeal against death in heaven or hell..!

well, whether you die as one in thousands during a massacre or survive an apocalypse to be the only living thing on the planet..! It shucks either way, Death Kills you one way or other.!

Sinduja said...

@V: Probably greater the time between the knowledge of imminent death and the actual day of death, greater becomes the acceptance.

I think most of us hardly think of death most of the time - until perhaps some situation elicits the thought. I feel, it is not for the one who is religious but for the one who understands the insignificance of human life, that death seems least threatening.

Thinking about it, I still feel that the death of near and dear ones is what is more scary than my own.

Sinduja said...

@Tangled up in blue: Your ramblings (if one ought to call them that) is worth their weight in gold.

If science ever found a magic potion that imparts immortality, I wonder how many of us would want to buy it? A few whom I asked said it would be madness to live this tiring life forever. Yet, this is the same tiring life that we go to extreme lengths to protect.

"Intelligent sentient self-aware form like the human species" ?! :)

"I sometimes struggle to reconcile what my rational brain tells me is a physiological necessity with the profundity of the grief felt at the loss of life." - That is such a beautiful line! Though a believer in cycle of life, there is something 'permanent' and 'irreversible' about death - not just of the actual death but of the love, memories, experience, dreams and desires that the person carried within him/her. This combination of characteristics and processes is never going to exist ever again at any point in time in any other person.

I can only hope I do some living before the dying and most importantly, acknowledge that I did some living when I am dying.

Sinduja said...

@Harish: I think many would say on the verge of death that though there are a lot of regrets, they did the best they could and that the circumstances permitted - this kind of self-justification might not be as much as the truth as it is to protect their peace of mind at the last minute.

I agree with you on the enjoying what we have part. Yet, is there an inherent fire by virtue of this age that seeks to accomplish as much as it can? I wonder. Is the search and the run one that ought to be there or just greed?

Sinduja said...

@Vicky: Your skepticism amuses me as much as it amazes me! :) True, I am also increasingly becoming a 'world is fucked up' person but somewhere, that seems to be the challenge you know - to find a way to forget that fact and go on.

And living this kind of a forced amnesia existence, if not anything else, at least makes life less 'fucked up' if not anything else.

Sinduja said...

@Chibi: I loved your comment Chibi! It was very creative, yeah! Thanks for bringing that movie back to mind - you know, when I watch movies like that, everything seems so much joyous - even death. Wouldn't it be great if such characters existed in the other worlds? Feel like watching that film now.

That said, I really pity the millions who were killed in the Nazi regime - there seems to be no 'uniqueness' about the death, right? As though it was a mass cleansing agenda where God simply clubbed our names with millions of others.

Arumugam said...

An apt post,after the 'death' and revival of your blog;-)

Death is humbling.It is the greatest equalizer the world knows.A proper view of death may be useful to abate most of the irregular passions

"We need but look into the cemetery and see the ten thousand upturned faces; ten thousand breathless bosoms. There was a time when fire flashed through those vacant orbs; when warm ambitions, hopes, joys and the loving life pushed in those bosoms. Dreams of fame and power once haunted those empty skulls. The little piles of bones, that once were feet, ran swiftly and determinedly through twenty, forty, sixty, seventy years of life, but where are the prints they left?"

You know,life is a devious trap,All I ever want is to be taken away before my loved ones,but if you really think about that statement,it will cause your loved ones to suffer without you.

Although an Epicurean may not care what happens after his death,as he doesn't exist,it is still the case that the bereaved suffer a harm even if the deceased does not.

On Immortality,I love this quote from the movie Troy:

"The Gods envy us. They envy us because we're mortal, because any moment might be our last. Everything is more beautiful because we're doomed. You will never be lovelier than you are now. We will never be here again."

Though,if I am given a choice,i will have to think very deeply.The temptation is irresistible! I might take it even,only to regret it 750 years later:-)

Abhishek said...

( Reads..... Empathizes.... Continues Reading.... Empathizes , again ) .

Great work =)

Srinidhi said...

I have never known how I will react. IF I will fall apart or be the cool dude next to you. Either way, I think that both reactions mean an association with the idea of death. Perhaps one longer than the other. Maybe that is what is essential.

I like the assertiveness in this piece.

Well written. Certainly thought provoking.

Between life's doings said...

You know, i think i read this post right after you published it but wasnt sure what to comment. It truly did stump me. I am still not sure what to say but boy! I do love this post Sinduja. I think this is as existential as it gets. Getting in touch with death, the reality of it is what gets one in touch with life-the genuineness of it, the realness- with fear, insecurity, and it all-all that we hide/protect ourselves from, and as a result miss out on how vast and expansive and infinite life really is. I read this post with a sense that you got really in touch with life,in touch with what is real-and that's what life is really about isnt it? Its not jsut about happiness, joy, merrymaking but about what you feel authentically in right now, in this moment.

Sinduja said...

@Arumugam: Ha ha... trust me Arumugam, if life too had an 'undelete' button, a lot of the suicide casualties would be back!

"It is the greatest equalizer the world knows.A proper view of death may be useful to abate most of the irregular passions" - you keep quoting some really great lines of others but little do you realize how much of wonderful meaning you give yourself! Really!

Live for 750 years? Ah! I suddenly feel that I neither want to live nor want to die...just want to float about feeling nothing. Perhaps that is what the most doomed and also the most happy ones are already doing.

Sinduja said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sinduja said...

@Abhishek: :)
Thanks Abhishek! Nice to see you write here after a long time. I am really grateful for the support.

@Srinidhi: "Maybe one longer than the other" - Absolutely! That is what even I kept thinking after a while. Thanks for writing. :) Wondered where you went, given your long absence from your blog. Nice to have you back

Sinduja said...

@Aarathi: You know what Aarathi, I think we should conduct a survey - or perhaps you know it best - whether all the ones with a near death experience or who recovered from a deadly disease did really transform permanently. As in, I know they must have got a very authentic wholesome perspective of life but could they be that way and live up to it forever after that?

Because I always forget that Eureka moment when something really meaningful to do hits me and I get back to my old ways. Perhaps only the terminally ill will really give their best till the last minute.

R-A-J said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
R-A-J said...

Wow, wonder what I'd do if I gotta knw tht I was gonna go down in a minute or something...

Much as I'd like to say I'd plant a hot passionate kiss on the hot dispassionate stewardess n earn the tag "killed in action", me thinks I'd be so damn scared to even move n probably dig my fingers deep into the seat n pray like hell!!!

Wow, glad tht u picked up the aspect of the "suppressed thought" - cud so relate to it - come to think of it, ironically, most of the thoughts I think of during the day of r usually eventually suppressed... damn! :)

Nice post, Sinduja.. great read :)

The Fool said...

Interesting thoughts. I think I also get paranoid the same way.The last paragraph reminded me of Final Destination movies.

Sinduja said...

@RAJ: :D... you sure know how to even make death interesting or at least make a sober post on death interesting. We need more people like you in this world.

@The fool: Final destination - ah, that sadistic series! Hope my blog doesn't turn out to have that kind of an effect. ;)

Thanks for visiting! :)

Between life's doings said...

Hi Sinduja, Wanted to let you know that I nominated you on my post to write a post on the Best of Just Random. I wanted to read all of it before you really go ahead and shut the blog down. Do indulge your readers. Read my post on the rules etc. Would love to read the best of Just Random :-)

Anonymous said...

There seemed to be something final about this post - like saying goodbye. But, my god, don't tell me you're 'dead'.
Do keep in touch.


Anonymous said...

My email ID:

Sinduja said...


I type this long blog post and then, log in to see this comment. Some coincidence huh?

timer.old? Anonymous mail id too? V!

Hey, thanks for that though! :) Hopefully I won't 'die' for a long time.

Sinduja said...

@aarathi: Thanks again Aarathi. Yes, best of just random coming up. :)