Of course, Mandela's month is nothing compared to Ariel Sharon's condition. Remember Sharon? The tough no-nonsense former prime minister of Israel? Back in January 2006, Sharon suffered a stroke and brain hemorrhage that a mere couple of decades ago would have ended a human's life. Not now. Sharon continues to live in a comatose state. He is 85-years old. Mandela will be 95 in a fortnight.
Mandela and Sharon are not abstract entities. They are real people, with real family members. And those families do whatever any typical family does. We want to fight that death. Even when the person is 95 years old. Even when it is a comatose state in one's eighties.
Mandela's and Sharon's machine-assisted living are, to a large extent, reflections of our inability to deal with mortality. We are not at ease to deal with our own mortality as well as another person's mortality. We struggle.
And we struggle a lot more as our personal connection with the dying person gets stronger. Thus, we cry and sob when one of our own dies, but we rarely ever pause when some stranger across town dies. When an Ethiopian dies in a village somewhere, well, we don't even know about it for us to react, though we know that quite a few Ethiopians die every single day.
Which means the death of the person is not merely about that person. But, it is really about us. If that death matters to us, affects us, then that death is significant. We shed tears. If that death does not matter to us, we couldn't care. We continue to watch movies, make love, eat, do laundry, without any change in our lives.
Oh, but, death is terribly traumatic when it is a close one who dies. Doesn't matter if it is a dog or a human. A grandfather or an uncle or a mother. It gets us.
When you lose someone very close to you, the very fabric of your life is ripped to shreds.Our stories are so intertwined with that life that is no more. When my dog died, that part of my world was shattered. To pieces.
|With my dog, Congo, a couple months before he died|
An outsider from a culture in which dogs don't matter much would not have understood why I should have grieved that loss so much. But, I did. I do, even now.
[If] the hardest thing is not that the other person’s life has ended but that our own has been ripped to shreds, then has grief become a deeply selfish thing? I don’t think so. The phenomenology of grief means that we cannot draw any simple division between self and other. We feel confused — are we crying for ourselves or for the deceased? — because our feelings for ourselves and the person we love can’t be neatly taken apart, just as we cannot neatly take ourselves apart from those to whom we are closest. Rather than being a purely selfish thought, the idea that someone was so loved that he became a part of you is the most profound form of appreciation possible. It’s perhaps also why death is so often marked by regret, which is not about just you or the one you mourn, but for the shared opportunities lost to you both.Yep, that some other person, or even a dog, was loved so much that they became a part of who we are is why we grieve so much. Which is why the death of immediate family and very close friends and pets tear apart our lives, whereas the death of that Ethiopian is a mere statistic to us.
Every death is:
a reminder that no one gets it all straight, and that even the best philosophy in the world can’t save us from ultimate extinction, likely in a state far from enlightenment. It has to be enough to have lived well and to have played a part in the lives of others too, and the only philosophy worth its salt is the kind that helps us to do just that.So, yes, give that grim reaper as little help as possible. Floss!
However we grieve, after the tomb is sealed, the ashes scattered, or the coffin buried, all we can do is get on with trying to make sure we write the best chapters of our own lives that we can, while contributing some good lines and passages to those of others. We can’t guarantee that the great editor of fate won’t ruin it by inserting an ugly ending. But we can give the bastard as little help as possible.