September 2012

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Death’s Approaching Spiral

By The Libertarian Heretic

Many things you read attempt to teach you how life works. This essay, however, is about how death works.

More specifically, it is about how death comes at you all throughout life -- in a vicious spiral, striking down others as it circles slowly and remorselessly towards numero uno.

Here, I hope to prepare the reader, especially the younger ones in how – and likely at what pace -- you will experience the deaths of others, at least in the ordinary flow of a common median-level American life. Some simple practical ethical advice based on that information comes at the end.

I am inspired to this by an old classmate. He is also going through the half-century mark in age. And he was moaning online about recent deaths happening in his own life -- of family, and of loved and admired acquaintances.

Just please, he asks and prays, have them stop coming and coming.

But they don’t. At least , not until the Biggest One of All, one’s own.

Until then, the deaths of the beloved and familiar accelerate in the inward taunting spiral mentioned above. (Hopefully, however, the increasing science of longevity may make things a little different and a little better for you younger people).

So below is a little heads up, some how-to-brace-yourself awareness regarding the eternal heads down problem.

Age ranges used are approximate, and mileage may vary considerably per individual circumstances, but what is described is what one in our society probably should expect in general.

Ages 0-20. Death Thunders Off in the Distance. A Grandparent or two checks out as you become aware of life and death. Ancient celebrities, whom you only learned of when they died, start to go. And you typically can’t understand why your elders are so depressed about it. Meanwhile, in an odd mishap, a sick or reckless or unlucky or military-service peer is taken away. (More so, if there is a big war.) But funerals are occasional affairs. (Pets always go, however, and rapidly, so that type of loss will be encountered early.)

Ages 21-30. Rumbling Louder & More Often. It’s pretty much the same as before, but not quite so rare. A few more unlucky peers and some distant relatives go, while some acquaintances that are slightly closer in age check out for good. A few friends will lose a parent this early and that will begin their own next phase earlier. You may lose a parent at this time too. (Pets continue, as ever, to fall rapidly.)

Ages 31-50. Now the Storm Hits The Beach. It starts to pour. First, it is a noisy hard trickle, until it rapidly becomes a torrent. One parent, or both, may take the final exit in this period, if not already. Father’s Day and Mother’s Day change from being searches for appropriate gifts to being searches for the appropriate toasts to be recited “in-memory-of”. More peers -- possibly even siblings, along with associates who have unusual health problems, or those who have heroic or unusual life-styles, or just more plain bad luck -- take their leave. (Pets continue to depart at their usual rapid pace.)

Relatives you knew and liked (and many you disliked) drop in a slow but steady march of thuds. Then, in small-sized full clumps. Friends’ parents whom you knew and liked, drop away with increasing speed. Public and private idols (stars, athletes, politicians, older teachers) along with the famed villains of your youth march out of the universe in droves. The newspaper, TV, and online obituaries become increasingly regular occasions for sorrowed gasps and mournful groans. A child of a peer, or worse God-forbid, one’s own child, is felled by a disease, a mishap, a crime, a poor decision, a misfortune or a war. (Pets, well, you know the drill.)

Age 50+. The Deluge of Death. It’s pretty much everyone falling in a steady downpour now. The dam cracks and then breaks too. It floods, until it eventually it comes right over to your doorstep and ultimately inside. Then, and only then, the storm is silenced.

But until it’s your time, death just comes and comes and comes, circling eagerly, even factoring off the pets.

The obituaries on the web and in newspaper pages come to feel like a regular sentimental walk down memory lane, rather than merely a surprised or shocked sorrow. The toll now includes young celebrities whose fame and identity you only learn of after they die. Meanwhile, quite a few idols and relatives start to appear more and more in the death notices, but you find you are far more surprised to learn they were still alive, like Chad Everett. (You will notice a lot of that type of sentiment expressed probably not too far away when Larry Storch, Sid Caesar, Carl Reiner, and Abe Vigoda hit the obits.)

Close family and friends from years ago, and friends from nearer times, fall again and again and again. Here and there, but more and more, a too-young relative or two is lost, adding an extra cruel dance to death’s inward spiral. Then will pass one smiling acquaintance. Then another. A few more in quick succession, followed by the aging asshole from down the hall or up the road. (And a generation or two of their pets.)

Funerals start to be key regular congregating emotional events of life, like rock concerts used to be.

Finally, but quite likely not last, it’s time for the spouse, the siblings, the close lifelong friend and that other lifelong friend. Also, the more recent can’t-live-without-them friends give up their ghosts as well, and we ourselves may yet have a few years after them still to live without them.

Then, or a little before, that reliable “they’ll-live-forever” guy or gal stops too. Even Dick Clark succumbs, and Olivia de Havilland will eventually be truly and finally gone with the wind.

And then the Big One comes for you.

Meanwhile, there’s still out there surviving a universe of newer people who will outlive you (along with their pets). They too are reproducing for their own futures and legacies. These folks will be your descendants and/or those of your peers, alongside whole fresh generations of global strangers.

“How did I get to be ‘an ancestor’?” you may ask as you go.

These survivors of your very self or of your peers, who may attend to you as the spiral makes its final approach you, may or may not reassure you in their roles as the ones left behind to do the carrying-on of humanity’s elusive mission, if any exists.

The moral of the spiral?

What ethical lessons can we offer from all this?

Perhaps the below rather ordinary but timelessly useful ones.

Ethics Lesson #1: Live life at least partly to help ensure that the next generations are indeed worthy and properly guided to carry on.

Ethics Lesson #2: Be nice to people as much as you can while they are alive and aging, time is limited. Be especially fair to animals as time is even shorter for them.

Ethics Lesson #3: Honor deaths as they happen, even if only to comfort the living. Rest assured, however, that until your own and including your own, there are more deaths to come, increasing with a spiraling rapidity. (Especially for the pets.)