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The Mortality Club

The War of the Ages


The television writer Andy Rooney once said, “Death is a distant rumor to the young.” Young people may be fascinated by stories of zombies and the living dead, but they do not fear death. They tend to regard it as an abstraction or somebody else’s problem. They tend to avoid discussing it with the old people in their lives. Young people look into the future and see a long trajectory. Old people see no future, only life coming to an end. Young people are filled with the spell of potential. Old people are despondent at the lack of expectation. Young people are hopeful. Old people too often act as though they are doomed.

Young people want to talk about their hopes and dreams for the future, or the great adventure or good time they’re going to have on the weekend or during vacation. Many old people only want to talk about their latest medical report, and their fears about what comes next. Young people look forward to trying new foods or having “fun foods” (translate: junk foods) with their friends. Their elders, meanwhile, dwell on all the foods they can’t eat for dietary reasons.  Read More 
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A Good Way to Die

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. Read More 
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The Cretan Glance

My daughter, Monica is in Spain with her husband Fran and my two grandsons. They intend to go to a bullfight in Madrid. That got me thinking about the dangers a matador faces when in the bullring. I wondered about the kind of person who chooses a career in which the only path to greatness is the willingness and ability to stare death in the face. A search of the Internet revealed an interesting article that appeared in the New York Times on February 1, 2016. It introduced Jose Tomas, one of the greatest matadors of all time. “Tomás’s performances were savage ballets, a blend of elegance, fearlessness, timing and sacrifice. He seemed determined to pass bulls ever closer to his body, pushing the boundaries of how close a man could get.” Read More 
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The Hourglass: Life as an Aging Mortal Receives a 4.5 stars review

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. Read More 
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SAVING THE DEAD: El Dîa de los Muertos

In Mexico there is a widespread belief that we die three times. The first happens when our hearts stop beating. The second occurs when our bodies are buried in the ground and we are no longer in sight. The third and final death happens when our loved ones have forgotten us.

The Mexicans try to make sure the final death never takes place. On November 1 and 2ndof each year, they celebrate the Day of the Dead. The celebration is joyful with an emphasis on honoring the lives of departed ancestors rather than on attempting to pacify malevolent spirits.

The tradition is an old one. All the ancient Indian civilizations of Mexico celebrated El Dîa de los Meurtos. Their celebrations were held in August, and continued throughout the month. In the fifteenth century, the Spanish Conquistadors converted the locals to Catholicism. As part of their attempt to get rid of what they regarded as pagan traditions, they moved the celebration of the dead to November 1 and 2nd, so that it would coincide with the Catholic All Saints and All Souls days.

The change in date hasn’t muted the passion of the festival, nor lessened the time, energy and resources devoted to its preparation. The planning process occurs throughout the year. The fall is devoted to gathering the foods and goods that will be offered to the dead. At the end of October, families gather to clean and decorate the graves of their loved ones with wreaths of marigold and other offerings. Adults are given bottles of tequila, mexcal or atole. Toys are left at the graves of the “little angels,” the dead children. Sugar skulls often inscribed with the names of the deceased on the forehead are prepared, and eaten by a friend or relative in a passionate and joyous ritual designed to commenorate and remember their dead loved ones.  Read More 
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