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Memento mori

10/03/2016

In April 2016, I will celebrate my 73rd birthday in Spain. As a teen-ager, I discovered the path (bhavana) of meditation and spiritual practice. At first, I meditated to become enlightened. As I got older, I practiced to be happier. Now, I relegate the demands of this life to the higher task of preparing myself for a post-mortem existence (or non-existence, whatever maybe the case). If in the end there turns out to be a heaven or nirvana or whatever somewhere else, there is no better way to prepare for it than by living the noble eight fold path. I understand that preparing to die is inseparable from preparing to live.

The Last Time
The last time we had dinner together in a restaurant
with white tablecloths, he leaned forward
and took my two hands in his hands and said
I’m going to die soon. I want you to know that.
And I said, I think I do know.
And he said, What surprises me is that you don’t
And I said, I do. And he said, What?
And I said, Know that you’re going to die.
And he said, No, I mean know that you are.
~Marie Howe (1989) What the Living Do

The poem ‘The Last Time’ describes a revelatory conversation the speaker has with her dying brother ‘The last time we had dinner together in a restaurant.’ Her brother takes her hands into his, and asks if she really understands that he will die soon. The speaker assures him that she does, hinting at an inner acceptance the brother questions. He then turns the tables on her (and the reader) by suggesting that what she really needs to accept is that she herself will die someday—and that until she understands this, she cannot really comprehend the reality of his dying. In the chilling Philip-Larkin-like twist at the end, we recognise again that accepting the death of others, even those that we love, is easy compared to accepting that same fate awaits us.

It doesn’t take a scientist to figure out that the possibility of death has been holding pretty steady at lOO% for quite some  time. There’s only one thing that we have to do in life, and that is to die. I have often met people who use this fact to justify their ambivalence toward health information. But I take a different view. I have never pursued health hoping for immortality. Good health is about being able to fully enjoy the time we do have. It is about being as functional as possible throughout our entire lives and avoiding crippling, painful and lengthy battles with disease. There are many better ways to die, and to live. ~T. Colin Campbell PhD and Thomas M. Campbell II, MD (2006) The China Study, p. 75

Next time you view a village perched on the side of a hill with some envy, and you ask what the people who live there do. Remember that they are waiting for death just like all of us. ~Maurice Maeterlinck (1947) The Hour-Glass; a collection of his insights.

Take control of your medical care by overturning the patient-doctor power dynamic. Doctors think their task is to ensure health and survival. It is much broader and deeper than that. It is to enable well-being—your well-being. And well-being is about the reasons one wishes to be alive. The conversation with your physician and other parties will aim for understanding by exploring:
⦁    How important it is for you to live as long as possible, even if that means you would experience pain and suffering?
⦁    How important it is for you to avoid pain at all costs, even though you might not be able to interact with others?
⦁    How important it is for you to be at home when you die?


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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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