Saturday, 16 October 2010

A Right Ti(m)e To Die

Is there a right time (or a way) to die?

We always read about "devastating sudden deaths", but also of equally devastating deaths after a "long illness". Then there are those horrible people who die too young - where "too young", on a case by case basis, tends to take any value you care to think of between 1 and 71 years old. And, of course, nobody's jumping for joy even when a centenarian keels over. Well, in any case not always...

Is there a way to die then, and avoid, if not grief of family and friends, then any of the above (and worse) exultations? After all, to die is as natural a thing as to live or be born. That's what life's all about: living, but dying, too. If it wasn't, can you just imagine having every single one of your ancestors come to your 10,000th birthday party - up (or down) to and including the very first "replicator" that gave rise to a gene, that gave rise to... I can, and while I admit it'd be quite fun for the fist, oh, let's say 119 birthdays, I'm sure it's very quickly grow old and boring. I certainly wouldn't know what to do with all those socks and sweaters!

So, we shall agree (or at least I will) that there's nothing really wrong with dying. In the wise words (well, a shout, a scream even, if you will) of a Nate from Six Feet Under: "Everybody dies! Everybody!" (if I haven't read too much Pratchett for my own good, I'd have adorned the quote with much more exclamation marks). And they do. Trust me. Whatever some sillytraditional (and otherwise) religions may tell you.

Do I mean to say that there are deaths that need not be mourned? Of course not! To mourn someone's death is only natural. There is nothing wrong with mourning. My beef here is with those - usually outsiders to the death in question - that feel the need to grade it, as it were. I am sure that families and friends concerned couldn't care less about such "grading". They're certainly too busy feeling their loss, and in a very private way that really does not concern outsiders.

So, in the final analysis, is there a right time (or a way) to die? Of course not! But in the same breath, any time is as good as any other. It is slightly different with a way, though. For the one actually dying, surely any way will not be the same as any other. Also for those who genuinely (by which I mean closely) cared for them - friends, family, and suchlike. In this particular area this may even spill over into all well-meaning (or even ill-meaning, in their own evil way) bystanders.

But again, I have to come back to what transpires to be the crux of my argument: however and whenever one dies, it is to be hoped that outsiders, bystanders, and others who come to feed on the news, should really refrain from trying to pass judgement on whether it was too early, too difficult, or whatever "grade" they want to award it. This judgement is not theirs to pass. It may not even be the surviving family's and friend's. Really, the only person who know, or could know if they weren't dead already, is the deceased. But as already mentioned, they're dead. They are no more (to paraphrase the iconic, no historic Dead Parrot Sketch). So they can't actually pass any judgement. Even if they wanted to.
A side note to believers into "life after death"

I will indulge your delusion here for a moment to demonstrate that even if true (which would be extremely ridiculous, but anyway...) my conclusion above stands - at least as far as the inability, or in your case inapplicability, of the deceased passing judgement on the quality and timing of their own death.

Let's assume the typical Heaven & Hell scenario...

Option 1: The deceased was deserving of Heaven. They die and are transported to a place of eternal bliss, happiness, virgins, or whatever rocks the particular religion's boat. Once they realise where they are, someone comes up to them and wants to inquire about  the manner and timing of their death, or rather, the quality of each. What is the most likely reply to this query going to be? If you ask me, any person deserving of Heaven hopefully has enough wits about them to reply: "Does it really matter? I'm in Heaven, for Heaven's sake!".

Option 2: The deceased was a right bastard - or at least offending their unknowable deity of choice (or their parent's choice more likely - it's worrying how little say people have in these matters). So, after dying in whichever manner and at whichever hour they find themselves a) cooking in a cauldron of oil, b) freezing to death, c) surrounded by virgins (there's no accounting for tastes), d) whatever. For one, do you really think there'd be someone down (or up) there who cared in any way about how the new arrival got there? And even if there were, do you think that said new arrival would care to compare the potential agony of death to a certain eternal agony of, well, death? In any Hell worthy of its name it is to be assumed that anything that went on before you got there was infinitely better, almost by definition. Otherwise, some would find it a Heaven - and most deities would not allow that. How else would they be able to maintain their street cred?

Option 3: For those who believe there is also a purgatory I'm afraid there's no hope, so I won't even try to entertain them with more than this sentence - at least it's longish...
So, yes. Even the Bible thumpers seem to deserve to be left alone in death. At least for them it just might be an actual place, with actual things to do (however unpleasant). For us others, who fully expect to just cease to be, well, let our families and friends retain their dignity in mourning by not imposing on them the "degrees" to which it should go.