Friday 20 October 2017

#287 Is death the end?

Ines Beyer was HIV positive. During an emigration-related medical exam at twenty three, she had learned in an instant that her relationships, aspirations of motherhood and life expectancy had been dramatically compromised. At least, that's how it had seemed to her.

A fan of alternative medicine, the young German elected not to take the prescribed antiretrovirals, which she believed most sincerely to be life threatening too. Ines opted instead for a course of natural remedies. She tried meditating, kept her fitness in check and she always, always ate all her veggies.

Several years went by. Ines experienced no alarming ailments at all. That changed. Her health rapidly deteriorated. Unsurprisingly, those around her amped up their advice that she reconsider her treatment options. Ever the Little Miss Stubborn, Ines declined and descended into what she saw as a chaotic inner battle over her fate. Would she be killed by the virus or the medication? Did it matter?

Drowning in a flood of illness and nightmarish thought cycles, Ines began to search for a brand new option altogether. Building on her existing interest in metaphysics, she found a log to cling to in the shape of a belief in what she saw as a duality of herself and her body, an idea that enabled her to believe that a part of her could survive her own physical death.

* * * 

My butt ached. I'd been sat on a hard wooden chair in Watkins Books for forty five minutes, wedged in on either side by what I could only guess were two vulnerable people, out in search of some hope of their own. The lady on my left seemed almost as restless as I was and kept fiddling with her ring. Did she hate wooden chairs too or was she just anxious? After her talk, Ines, who had eventually decided to start taking the pills and was in much better health, took plenty of empathetic questions. Voicing skepticism would have been like interrupting the vicar during a church sermon.

Ines' talk wasn't my first foray into the philosophy of death. A couple of years ago, I'd sat through Shelly Kagan's undergraduate lectures on the subject from 2007, a class so entertainingly popular that Yale saw fit to record it and make it available for free on Youtube. However, the two speakers' positions on the topic could not have been further apart. 

Interestingly to me, the contrast in the two speakers' viewpoints did not seem to affect the comfort of their audiences, both of which had contained individuals who were themselves facing their own mortality. Could the act of discussing beliefs and reconciling thoughts surrounding death be as helpful as the beliefs themselves, or was it that arriving at a belief was comforting, regardless of what that belief was? I didn't know. I sat on the edge of the group listening to their conversations. Then when it was over, I grabbed my hoodie, made a beeline for the door and skulked out into the night.


Fizzfan said...

Is death the end? Nobody knows and likely never will.
I have a friend who contacts her son on the ‘other’ side every week and has done for years. He seems to have told her things that are seemingly inexplicable. One message I can recall is telling her that her Dad was thinking about buying a sports car and then told her the particular make and model. When she visited her Mum, her Mum confirmed he was thinking about buying a sports car (which she was very annoyed about) but she didn’t know the Make or Model. Her Mum then asked her Dad and he confessed he’d made enquiries about the exact Make and Model of the car my friends son had spelt out in her session with him.
Is my friend a bit fanciful. NO. She’s about as far from that description as you can imagine.
I’m quite cynical, she’s extremely grounded but she is spiritual. I can vouch for several things myself from being in her house just after he passed like lights constantly flickering. In fact we used to almost joke about it. May not sound like anything much but it was just so noticeable. After about 6 months this lessened and for the last few years has never happened.
Another friend had similar experiences when she lost her sister and I’ve witnessed odd things like a cork popping out of a bottle for no reason when we were discussing her and a small ornanment deciding to almost fly off a shelf. It was weird enough to joke that her sister was saying Hi and wanting to make her presence felt.
I still don’t know what I believe but it has made me open to the possibility that it is possible.
I think death is one of those things that most people toy with the idea of embracing at some point in their life but when faced with the reality, opt out.
Trying to combat terminal illness without meds was a noble crusade, but understandably when it became clear it couldn’t save her life, she opted out and gave them a go.
I guess mostly we just want to carry on living, or rather we don’t want life to stop.

Profound Familiarity said...

You've written a lot about this. More than I remember you writing about any other blog post. Does the subject sit within a realm that particularly interests you?

To the question, "Can a person survive their death?" the only logical answer seems to be "no", since death is by definition the end of life. Therefore technically speaking if someone did appear to survive something that looked like death, I think the most logical conclusion to make would be that they hadn't really died.

Of course if by some million-to-one fluke, a person lost consciousness, became unresponsive, had a funeral and then it turns out they still survived, we are so used to categorising those events as a part of "death" that it might feel a lot more familiar to say that the person had died and then come back to live than admitting that they hadn't really died.

I want to carry on living. I think about it every day.

Fizzfan said...

Am I interested in this realm? Hmmmm, do you know I don’t really know. Two of my very best friends have suffered the most terrible of losses and through them I’ve listened to and been party to their way of dealing with it. It’s kind of accidental interest and I just can’t dismiss some things that have happened. I trust their characters, judgements and intelligence hugely and can only say I believe that if you want to believe in an after life and it helps you cope, it’s a great force to the good. Do I believe? I don’t know because I haven’t been directly effected by the loss of a dearly loved one. What would I do if it happened? Who knows.....I’m kind of a you don’t really know until you experience it girl.

I want to carry on living......Yes, me too. I guess that’s why we’re still around.
It would be interesting to see how many times people entertain the notion of not ‘being’ here though.
I’d hazard a guess it’s a constant gremlin that surfaces rather more frequently than anyone ever confesses to or would ever come up in everyday normal conversation.
The difference between wanting not to live and really wanting to die is clearly relevant and like most things must be about degrees of unhappiness that finally tips the scale.
I do have indirect (not me) contemplative experiences of both suicide and attempted suicide in my family (the suicide was a cousin so not an emotional experience to me) the attempted one much closer to home, and have a quite accepting view of it. Not from the point of view of loss, but in accepting the fact that some people are so wracked with unhappiness that they have chosen to end their life and have actually carried it out. You can only be very very sad for their suffering.

No of course a person can’t survive true death, well at least not as a living person......

Life, death, love, they’re all utterly unanswerable topics. That’s the joy and despair I suppose.

I’m very happy you want to carry on living :)) It’s a mad bad marvellous world and if you only get one shot at it.....well, it’s kind of not worth not carrying on?:)) well mostly.......Meh
I definitely wouldn’t make a very good motivational speaker would I?

Have you always considered life on a daily basis?

Profound Familiarity said...

You continue to reply at length on this subject. Perhaps there is something about it that interests you, or you just felt like writing more than usual for another reason.

I feel the same about accepting suicide. I suppose if a person was contemplating it for some reason took the decision lightly and made it on a whim... it's unlikely that anyone would care so little about their own life but say they did... and it hurt the people around them by several orders of magnitude more than it hurt the person concerned... then I suppose it could be said to be morally wrong but that doesn't seem like a probable scenario.

I will have considered mortality less the younger I was because it was more of a given.

Fizzfan said...

I don’t think morality comes into it either because even if someone was just ‘doing it for attention’ I’d still have to accept that only a very troubled mind would want that kind of attention. It’s the Why that’s the key.....and we all know how complicated Whys are.
The same cousin that eventually killed herself had previously told us she had cancer (she didn’t) and had a very troubled history in all sorts of other ways. If she’d told anyone she was about to kill herself I doubt anyone would have really been able to respond because they were so tired and disbelieving of her by then, and even if they did, people can only usually bare to be supportive for quite short periods of time.
Eerily my Mum predicted she’d do it when she found out she’d been given a flat by her council. Prior to that she’d alway lived in shared accommodation of some kind. She was not able to cope alone.

I’m not sure about the mortality thing. I used to think about it more when I was younger because death frightened me more then. Maybe when I’m older and it’s closing in on me it’ll kick in again?

I do seem to be interested in this don’t I but it’s more from a philosophical point of view of life and death and the way people think about the whole subject than actually being interested in death. I’m a bit averse to it really.

Maybe the spiritual question persists for me though and always will...which is quite irritating because I have two completely opposing voices on it. That’s a thing too, thinking equally strong opposing thoughts on the same topic.

You’ve started something now.......I’m gonna get a cup of tea and stop thinking about bloody thinking:))

Profound Familiarity said...

The psychological isolation seems a strong factor. People becoming distant and others not really knowing how to reach them.

I expect some older people fear death and some don't. I can't imagine not fearing it.

I visited a children's hospice about six weeks ago; it hadn't even opened yet and it brought my mood right down. I don't even like walking past a hospital.

What spiritual question persists?