The Mortality Club

Dying to be With You

January 15, 2017

Tags: death, dying, caregiver, grief

The Hindu ritual known as Sati during which the widow throws her body on the flames that are turning her husband’s corpse into ash is rarely practiced today. It was prevalent when the role of a Hindu woman was solely to service her man. When he died, her reason for living disappeared. She was declared in-valid, irrelevant, as though already dead. Grief so consumed her that she already felt like her flesh was already on fire. Jumping into the flames held no terror; only the promise of reuniting with her mate.

The ritual of Sati has beome virtually non-existent. That’s happened, in part, because widows are no longer regarded as in-valids who have lost their reason for being. Widows are no more likely than widowers to die, or to want to die, as a result of the death of their mate. The sense of loss that overwhelms when a loved one dies, is not gender-specific. It afflicts both men and women. And, it is not age-specific. Both young and old can be so consumed by grief that they choose to die rather than to live without their mate. (more…)

Tears in the Rain

October 9, 2016

Tags: last words, dying, death

What do people think about when they are on the verge of death? Their last words give us an indication of their deepest thoughts as they face the great unknown. The more philosophical among us contemplate what death itself means. These contemplations lead to soliloquies that are memorable both in terms of their poetic brilliance, but also in terms of the insights they offer.

That few of us are capable of rendering such poetry at the moment of death is evident to me when I realize the only example I can think of is a fictional hero. At the end of the Ridley Scott film Blade Runner, the replicant Roy Batty sits in the rain on the top of a roof with his life-long human adversary whom he has just rescued. He utters an incredibly moving death soliloguy.

“I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears...in...rain. Time to die.” (more…)

It's Good that We Die

September 24, 2016

Tags: dying, die, death, grave, mortality

Death is a scary thing to contemplate. Images of the grim reaper are designed to terrify, not to console. It is no wonder that so many horror movies include dark cemeteries as the place where terrible things happen to good people. A belief in Heaven, or life everlasting helps mitigate against the terror, but rarely alleviates it entirely. And yet, it is good that we die.

If death were not the consequence of failing to take care of our bodies, we would become slothful and unhealthy, and spend all of eternity feeling poorly. We would be like a sick, old person condemned living in a state of decay forever. Consider T.S Eliot’s The Waste Land. The epigraph refers to the story of Sybil. She requested and was granted eternal life. Unfortunately, she forgot to ask that she be allowed to remain forever young. She aged and became decrepit. Not knowing what else to do with her, the townsfolk put her in a basket and hung her over the town square. For a thousand years, they listened to her moan, “Let me die. Please let me die.” And yet they could do nothing to help her. (more…)

A Good Way to Die

June 19, 2016

Tags: terminal cancer, mortal, death, fear, dying, life

Is there such a thing as a good way to die? I believe there is. When a person dies with few or no regrets about the way they lived their lives, that is a good death. When a person can say as they lay dying, “If I had it to do all over again, I wouldn’t do it any differently,” that is a good death. When a person can continue to celebrate life right to the moment they draw their last breath, that is a good way to die.

Is it necessary to have gotten over the fear of death in order to die well? I don’t think so. In fact, I think it is impossible to completely rid ourselves of the fear of death unless, of course, we believe so utterly in Heaven and in a Life Everlasting that death itself is a mere interruption, and not an end. Unfortunately, most mortals do not enjoy that total degree of faith. Thus, because we don’t know what happens to us when we can no longer inhabit our physical bodies, we must experience an element of fear. Or, as my anthropologist husband says, “Everyone’s afraid of dying. It’s hard-wired into the species.” That does not have to deprive us of a good death.

Recently I came across a passage written by Oliver Sacks. Dr. Sacks was both a neurologist and a prolific writer who was fascinated by the workings of the brain and its ramifications on the way we live. Among his better known books are The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat and Awakenings.

In February, 2015, he learned that an ocular tumour had metastasized to his liver and brain. He was told the cancer was incurable and untreatable, and that he would be dead within a matter of months.

Like a true Sage, Dr. Sacks was able to momentarily transcend his ego and fears in order to observe and comment on the state of his own psyche as he prepared to die. His words inspire me, and make it easier for me to accept that I am a mortal being who will die. His words lessen the fear and, in so doing, heighten my ability to celebrate life right to the end. (more…)

The Hourglass: Life as an Aging Mortal Receives a 4.5 stars review

June 6, 2016

Tags: Hourglass, review, aging, mortality, death

SELF PUBLISHING REVIEW (SPR) AWARDS 4.5 STARS
"The Hourglass: Life as an Aging Mortal by Pamela Cuming is an insightful book about a topic no human being can escape. Cuming’s book addresses how to live with the knowledge that one will eventually die. But it isn’t only about a person’s impending doom. She discusses at length how toview the aging process and how to accept it as part of life.

The topics in this book aren’t easy to confront, no matter what stage of life the reader is in. Almost every person on the planet has lost a person they loved or has encountered insurmountable grief when someone they know is diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. Yet many people go to great lengths to avoid any discussion of death, illness, or aging. Most people can’t handle thinking about it, let alone talking about it, even though it happens to every single person on the planet sooner or later.

Cuming’s approach to the subject matter makes it easier for the reader to digest the information. She shares her personal experiences and stories from her friends and acquaintances. This style makes it easier to see the true subject, the human being, and not just the outcome: death. (more…)

FAVORITE QUOTATIONS ABOUT AGING AND DEATH

May 29, 2016

Tags: change, death, clinging

Here is my favorite quotation of the day:

"Accepting that life is change, and nothing is permanent can be liberating. Death gives us a gift in waking us up to that reality, and in inspiring or even enabling us to give up grasping and clinging desperately to those people and things that we falsely believe define us.”

from the Hourglass

GROWING OLD: A CURSE OR A GIFT?

May 29, 2016

Tags: aging, dying, death, growing old

Mindsets toward Aging and Mortality
At today’s meeting of the Mortality Club, I would like to talk about the different attitudes or mindsets we have about growing old. Some of us, the Stargazers, would prefer to deny that they are aging. They try to surround themselves with younger people. When they look in the miror, they see their younger selves.

Confident of their own capabilities, Celebrants manifest a persistent “can do” attitudeThey are energized people who embrace each day enthusiastically. Adept at finding the silver lining in even the darkest cloud, Celebrants remain optimistic even in the face of aging. The celebrate cataract surgery because it frees us from the need to wear glasses. They call their pacemaker their buddy, and focus on it as a welcome life-saving device.

The hallmark of the Warrior is courage, or tenacity in the face of fear, and strength in the face of pain. Warriors feel empowered, in control and confident, and ready for battle. They are convinced that they will be able to meet the challenges and overcome the obstacles that are on the horizon. That includes aging. They exercise like crazy and adhere to stict diets in order to force their aging bodies to perform like they did when they were younger.

Like shipwreck survivors, Castaways expect to be thrown about or even battered by life. Aware that nature can be punishing and that every life ends in death, they anticipate misfortune. Castaways accept Buddha’s first noble truth, “Life is suffering.” They understand that aging is a curse against which they have no antidotes. They console themselves with the reminder that it is better than the alternative––dying.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could look at getting old through the lens of the Sage? Sages manage to transcend the boundaries of their own ego, experiencing a sense of being connected to all other living things. Sages are resilient, and able to bounce back each time they receive disturbing news. Because of their realism, they know when it is time to surrender. Blending the best characteristis of the other mindsets, the Sage regards getting old as a gift rather than as a curse. (more…)

BLUE INK WEIGHS IN ON THE HOURGLASS

May 24, 2016

Tags: aging, death, dying, mortality, book review

Blue Ink Review May, 2016
Written in an attention grabbing narrative style, The Hourglass: Life as an Aging Mortal is the culmination of Cuming’s unwitting journey to face and accept death’s inevitability.

In The Hourglass, 71-year-old Cuming shares a wealth of stories about friends, family members and acquaintances: the 90-year-old “queen” — a diva who demanded more and more as she aged; Cuming’s personal struggle to support her mother while maintaining her marriage, her writing and her sanity; close friends determined to die with dignity.

She also offers well researched advice on avoiding negativity, understanding doctors and their widely diverse bedside manners, and feeling healthier as seniors.

Overall, The Hourglass is an enlightening, sometimes even buoying, read that sheds light on a topic many of us deny or ignore. As the author reminds us when health problems arise and her daughter insists she move closer, even in death—especially in
death—it is vital to respect our differences: “For my life to be meaningful, I have to write my own story as I want it to be told.”

Launching the virtual Mortality Club.

May 15, 2016

Tags: aging, dying, death, mortality, death cafe

In the final chapter of The Hourglass: Life as an Aging Mortal, I introduced the Mortality Club. With this post, I hope to launch the club as a place where people can come together in a virtual world to talk about aging and about dying. Writing about aging and mortality has been a healthy and life-affirming experience for me. I believe talking with others about the experience of being mortal can have a similarly beneficial effect. I agree with the mythologist Joseph Campbell who said, “The conquest of the fear of death is the recovery of life's joy. One can experience unconditional affirmation of life only when one has accepted death, not as contrary to life but as an aspect of life.”

I envision our virtual meetings as open and honest conversations about our fears, our hopes, our struggles, our wins and our losses, and the ways we cope as we grow older and death draws nearer. I'll begin by introducing myself. (more…)

Selected Works

Psychology/Aging and Dying
In youth we are invincible. The world is forever: we are forever. But, sentient creatures that we are, time inevitably plays its part. Aging and illness shadow those early sensibilities until one day we feel the lurking presence of death itself. Fearful of our own dark thoughts, too often we keep such anxieties to ourselves. To deny our own mortality is a parlor game of sorts, played within our own heads and frequently played alone. Pamela Cuming will have none of it. In her latest book, The Hourglass, she throws back the parlor curtains and lets the light stream in. This is a powerful, objective, unflinching, and yet profoundly empathic work that explores the rewards of honest caring⎯the privilege and the pain⎯not only for one’s friends and family but also for one’s self. Drawing upon an uncanny intuitive understanding of human foible plus a broad knowledge of character development, honed from decades of consulting in the business world, this is a book filled with personal stories both engaging and instructive. In short, The Hourglass is a must read for all those who seek to live life to the full, from start to finish. ________________ Peter C. Whybrow MD, Director of the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Beavior at UCLA and award-winning author of The Well-Tuned Brain: Neuroscience and the Life Well Lived.
Fiction: Publication Date Nov 14, 2014
Set in New York City and Los Angeles between August 1999 and November 2001, The Stranger Box is the story of a mother and a daughter caught like two white dwarf stars in separate orbits, destined to collide. Though she does everything in her considerable power to insure the child never finds out who she is, the vain and self-obsessed Katherine Blair is unable to change the course of her destiny or evade Eden, the resourceful daughter whose pursuit is fueled by the desire for revenge and the determination to steal the family that has been denied her.
Memoir
Widow’s Walk is a bold, brave, and candid admission of bereavement, weakness, and, ultimately, strength.
Nonfiction
A strategic guide to organizational and personal effectiveness
Turf is a direct, and sometimes disturbing book about the use and abuse of power in organizations.

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