“How Do You Want To Die?”

- September 25th, 2012

mueum_of_death-parking

I’ve been thinking a lot about death lately.

 

Not in a bad way. I mean I’m not dying imminently (as far as I know) or anything like that. And I’m not being morbid or suicidal.

 

It’s just that the idea of death and dying has been floating around me for the past couple of days. I haven’t been seeking it out, but in a weird sort of way Death with a capital D seems to be snuggling up to me. I hope it isn’t a premonition of some kind.

hans-holbein-1523-D-as-in-death

I am getting older so there is a certain inevitability to my demise and I definitely don’t take life for granted, but I am quite hopeful that I have another decade or two or even three  left in this mortal coil (if I can get my weight and blood pressure down a bit).

 

But, in general, I think we as a society tend to avoid discussing or even thinking very much about death. It makes us uncomfortable despite the fact that it’s an integral part of the deal for everyone who is born.

 

I hope you don’t mind me sharing this train of thought, spurred by a few isolated incidents in recent days. If you do mind, just stop reading. Death will still be hovering around the corner, but you can pretend to ignore it.

 

It all started on Sunday when I was flying across the Atlantic. Flipping through some of the freebie Brit papers I had picked up at the boarding gate, I came across a series of photos in The Daily Mail of John Lennon playing cricket during a break from filming the movie How I Won The War in Spain in 1966.

How_I_Won_the_War_DVD_cover

In the accompanying article was this paragraph, which gave me a little shiver as I read it:

 

“Towards the end of the film, Lennon’s character dies after being shot four times. Lennon initially refused to take part in the scene, revealing that he was haunted by fears of an unnatural death. He told (director Richard) Lester he was concerned about an ‘eerie prophecy’ which he said ‘may mean violent death for me later on’. His fears came true in 1980 when Mark Chapman shot him five times on the doorstep of his home in New York.”

I don’t know about you but that’s the first time I have ever heard that Lennon had an “eerie prophecy” he was liable to die a violent death. I’m not sure I really believe, but here’s the link to the Mail article for what it’s worth.

 

(I’ve since read elsewhere — including in the book The Last Days of John Lennon, a memoir by his 1979-80 personal assistant, Fred Seaman — that Lennon was absolutely convinced he would be assassinated. I guess that premonition was already firmly rooted back in 1966.)

 

So … interesting but not particularly relevant to my life. Yet that “eerie prophesy” was still tickling the back of my brain when I arrived back in Toronto and took the TTC home.

 

On a bus on the last leg of my journey, a middle-aged man sitting nearby struck up a casual conversation with a younger couple. The conversation was innocuous and inconsequential until the man suddenly asked the couple:

 

“Do you ever think about how you want to die?”

 

A little creepy, perhaps even threatening. The couple were taken aback, not sure how to respond to the new direction the conversation had taken. I was suddenly watching the man closely, half-expecting him to do something. He kept on talking, apparently oblivious to the concern his question had aroused.

 

“I mean, people don’t really talk about it much but most people probably have some idea about which way they would prefer to die. What about you? How do you want to die?”

 

The couple hadn’t really thought about it, didn’t really want to talk about it and the conversation itself quickly died. I was quite happy to get off the bus at my stop and quite happy to see no reports the next day of an unpleasant incident having happened on the TTC.

 

Apart from being a bizarre topic of conversation with complete strangers, it’s basically a stupid question.

 

How do you want to die? Relatively few people actually get to choose the time and manner of their deaths, so it’s a pointless exercise to run through a checklist of alternative endings.

 

But once the thought gets stuck in your head, it’s hard to kick. I don’t really have a preferred method of departure, but I know for sure how I don’t want to die.

 

I don’t want to die a long, lingering, agonizingly painful death.

 

I’m not a fan of the Dylan Thomas school of dying etiquette:

 

Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

 

When I go, I want to go gently. All things considered, I would prefer to just die in my sleep. Calmly. Peacefully. Gently. No raging. No famous last words. No bitter diatribes or screams of anguish.

 

But, (again) all things considered, I’d rather just stick around for the foreseeable future.

 

That was more or less the mundane tenor of my thoughts on mortality earlier today when I happened across a brief account of the death of Albert Einstein in 1955. Apparently Einstein knew he was in the process of dying and told doctors to keep their cotton-pickin’ paws off him.

Albert_Einstein_Wiki

I didn’t make note of where I read the story of his death, but here’s a bit of what Wikipedia has to say about it. Pay particular attention to the quote:

 

“On 17 April, 1955, Albert Einstein experienced internal bleeding caused by the rupture of an abdominal aortic aneurysm…

“Einstein refused surgery, saying: ‘I want to go when I want. It is tasteless to prolong life artificially. I have done my share, it is time to go. I will do it elegantly.’ He died in Princeton Hospital early the next morning at the age of 76…”

 

I still can’t figure out whether I think Einstein was right or wrong. Apparently there is only a very small percentage of success in saving a patient with a burst abdominal aorta. So it probably didn’t matter that he refused surgery. At least he wasn’t cut open and morphed out of his mind for his last couple of hours.

 

And that’s the sum total of my current ponderings on death and dying — John Lennon’s morbid premonition, a guy talking semi-crazy on a bus and Einstein choosing to bleed to death “elegantly.”

 

That’s it. When I started writing this, I figured it would all make sense as it came together and I would end up with some deep and insightful understanding of death by the time I finished.

 

But I haven’t. I’m just grateful to be alive. So I’m going for a bike ride now to enjoy the tail end of a beautiful autumn day. And hope I don’t get hit by a car. That’s really not how I want to die.

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2 comments

  1. Marilyn says:

    When my dad was dying of cancer a few years ago, he refused to take any pain medication after the first couple of days on it.
    He said he wanted to be ‘there’ with us while he could, so he could talk with us and say whatever needed to be said.
    After having a chance to have long talks, discussions and share memories with all of us, one day he just said “I’m ready now.” He closed his eyes and passed peacefully a few hours later.

    If I could die like that, having time to tie up the loose ends, have loved ones around so you could tell them one last time how much you loved them, that would surely be my choice.

  2. ex-sell69 says:

    People act as if death is a travesty, yet death is the only escape life has to offer.
    And how can some people ask for equality, in a world of individuality, where we’re all different from each other?
    Hypocrisy? Where they act as if life is one big pity party, and they’re trying to out due each other.
    Money, fame, power, status, etc. the things life seems to offer don’t really mean anything to me.
    Who we are, and what we represent means more… But on one day, everyone dies.
    Time goes on, things in our world change. And our brief time on this world will all but be forgotten (what means something to you, is nothing to me).
    I guess a simple answer would be: FOR THE LOVE OF LORD SHOJI KAWAMORI! (What else did you expect me to type?) LONG LIVE MACROSS!
    I got a secret it’s my name. I won’t tell you, oh it’s a shame…

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