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The Mortality Club

THE WAR OF THE AGES: Chicken Little and Indiana Jones

The pace and tempo of old and young are different and out of sync. Older people move more slowly than younger people. This frustrates the young and intimidates the old. Older people walk slowly because their bones are brittle, their balance is off, and they’re afraid of falling. They stop every few feet because their fibrillating heart makes them short of breath. They drive slowly because their synapses don’t fire quite as fast, cataracts are forming and their peripheral vision isn’t what it used to be. They even eat slowly. That may because they aren’t in a hurry, or because they need to chew their food more thoroughly to digest it, or because they just can’t seem to get the fork and spoon to cooperate.

In good humor, let me tell you a story about my mother and spaghetti. She loved spaghetti with meat sauce. She ordered it at every opportunity. My siblings and I tried repeatedly to teach her how to use her fork and spoon and twirl the pasta into a tight roll before attempting to put it in her mouth. She never quite got the hang of that. She persisted in attempting to pick up the pasta one piece at a time with her fork and put it daintily in her mouth. The strand of pasta would hang from the corner of her petite mouth, spewing sauce all over her chin. That made her nuts. She’d put down her fork, and carefully wipe her face with the napkin and then begin again. The meal could last for hours. We finally got to the point where we’d take her to restaurants that didn’t have spaghetti on the menu. 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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