Death of Marat by Jacques-Louis David. (sidenote: great article on an Art Basel project involving this painting, Lady Gaga, and Robert Wilson).
Work has been… work. As much as I try to be grateful for a job – and I don’t absolutely hate it – I can’t help but wonder if the life I am living is “worthwhile and good”. Is what I do important? Not really. Does it bring me joy? Nah.
While it is nice to make money and be comfortable, life is short. When I try to come up with jobs that would bring more joy and purpose into my life I get stuck – because none of those jobs actually make money. While I don’t need much to live, I do need to eat.
The reason all of this has been on my mind is because I’ve found myself thinking about “The End”. As in – death.
I am not particularly fond of the macabre. I hate haunted houses and tend to shy away from darkness. But, after being present when my father passed away in 2013, I cannot stop thinking about the last exit. Why is it so terrifying? Why as a culture have we demonized death if it is inevitable? Try as we might, we cannot stop the march of death.
I just finished the book Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty (also known as the lady from Jezebel’s Ask a Mortician feature). It details all the banal (and often gnarly) tasks that go into preparing the dead for burial/cremation. At times horrifying, it was incredibly refreshing. When we pass away, the bodies we leave behind are shells. I certainly saw that with my father – he was gone. His body was white and small. My father as I knew him had left the building.
Doughty shares more information – including fascinating historical facts about death – on her site The Order of the Good Death. Her writing really makes me think about what it means to not only have a “good death” but how to live a good life. To my mind, if your life is satisfying then death is a little less tragic. You did something with that gift of life. You made yourself happy. You contributed something. It wasn’t all about suffering or just muddling through. When it is time to go, you can leave in peace knowing you did your bit.
Along these lines, this article in the NYT on Zen and the Art of Dying is a great read. Instead of thinking about the past or the future, this hospice like center focuses on the present moment of the patient. I strive to be more in my moments constantly – and I certainly hope that as I grow older can I do so (even as Death starts to stare me down).
On the flip side, this NYT article discusses new approaches to grief. While sadness is human, getting stuck in grief can be crippling.
Sigh. I’m still on the journey of figuring what my “worthwhile and good” life is. Maybe that journey never ends. At least until death, anyhow.