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Accepting Death

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Writings about “accepting death” are often religious tracts or pieces of quiet stoicism. Advice on how to grimace and bear all. Or they are counsels on avoiding pain and joy in life in case that might set one up for grief.

A glance at any daily newspaper, however, reacquaints us with floods, accidents and murders. As well as acts of human savagery that seem to belittle life.

Accounts of human violence seem to mock fairness, decency, and the fragile concepts we rely on to perceive life as whole, dependable and meaningful.

There is also the large scale violence, where one country and another sends their bright-eyed young men off to die for this or that cause. To a distant reader the professed nobility of these causes seem like nothing but a ploy of death’s agents. There to entice the young to early deaths.

And to read of a commercial airliner with over two thousand peaceable people blown up in smoke to make a terrorist’ point is to feel the thinness of the line between life and death. How death is ever ready to undo any expectation about ‘normalcy’ in life.

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Smaller scale

On the smaller scale, at the local level, a glance at obituary column pages does nothing to lessen death’s image as the capricious intruder and conveyor of anxiety, suffering, and grief.

The pictures and stories give brief sketches of lives that, despite being disparate in age, status and race, and ethnic origins, all have traces of innocence and earnestness. All undeserving of deaths rebuke and separation.

Try as we might, deep down we know that these stories will sooner or later touch us. We will closer relate to the plight of the relatives who place those memorial notices at the bottom of the page.

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Percentages

Our only recourse sometimes seems to be in playing the percentages. We can put off worrying about death until old age. The scary things that we read about in newspapers happened only to a few unfortunate people. Chances are our lives will be normal and, for along time, unperturbed by death’s icy hand.

But the quickened heartbeat at a midnight telephone ring shatters our reliance on percentages. And try as we may to separate ourselves and our families from those unfortunate people to whom dreadful things happen, we can’t quite pull it off.

For how can we not identify with the victim of the drunk driver, or the child who has disappeared? Or the vibrant, “normal” person in whom cancer cells start multiplying?

The patients in the children’s hospital have personalities and potentials and agonies that are universal; they could be anybody’s children.

And if these awful things don’t happened to us. If a child that is the light of our lives is not snatched away. We yet live with the knowledge these things could happen and thus we live with the knowledge of how exposed we are. For death, like taxes, as the old saying goes, leaves no one untouched. 

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This essay draws on the work of Pamela Cuming and her work in The Hourglass: Life as an Aging Mortal. To learn more click here.


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