La mort

nana

What is it about November that always makes me think of death?

It comes in on the ghoulish, cold breath of Halloween, with La Toussaint – All Saints’ Day – and la Fête des Morts. On November 11th, we honour the soldiers who lost their lives defending our freedom. We set the clocks back and suddenly the light that lingered in our afternoons disappears, just as the rain sets in with the cold and damp.

Perhaps it’s only normal and right that in the final throes of autumn, as winter creeps in, we think about our own mortality.

The problem is that death – la mort – is the ultimate taboo. People in our society will talk about politics, sex, religion, money – anything at all with greater ease than they do this ultimate and inevitable stage of life.

We fear it. We deny it. We live our lives pretending that it will never happen. And then one day there it is: the end of the story. And we weep. We feel sadness for the loss of a loved one, for our own impending death. We grieve and remember and then, we forget about it all over again.

We’ve all lost loved ones, some very close and all too recently. It’s normal to grieve. I still miss my mother, whose death came all too early, and my Belle-Mère, whose recent absence is deeply felt in our family.

In France this is not something that we talk about any more than it is in Canada or any other country in the west. Death is something tragic, a horrible fate that befalls us all too soon. It is best forgotten until it must be dealt with.

And yet, death is as natural as birth. Why can’t we embrace the end of life with the same courage and honesty as we do its beginning? Why do all the obituaries say that people pass ‘peacefully’? I don’t know when or where or how I’ll go but it’s unlikely to be without a bitter struggle, an argument or a complaint.

If the laws stay the way they are now, let’s be honest, it’s not likely to be a happy ending. Why can’t we choose our death, and die with dignity and love and perhaps a modicum of comfort and the human joy we had in life?

There is a lot of work to be done to change this state of affairs. The Swiss are way ahead of us with the association ‘Dignitas’ that enables a dignified end of life and doctor-assisted suicide. Terry Pratchett also has a few good thoughts on this.

I don’t want a funeral, (unless perhaps a ‘fun’-eral as Nana, in the unforgettable Royles, asked for). I don’t want to be buried but cremated, my ashes sprinkled somewhere in a place I loved. The spreading of ashes being illegal in France, if it happens here I’ll go out in law-breaking style.

And by the way, Royle family creator and comic genius Caroline Aherne’s death a few months ago left me gutted.

Do you think about death? What are your wishes?

28 thoughts on “La mort

  1. What timing. I have been in a funk for weeks, coming off the anniversary of both parents deaths–they died within a couple of weeks of each other, a common phenomenon for long-married couples. They both were quite elderly, though my mom was in good health. They had advance directives saying what they wanted–or more precisely DIDN’T want–done. A good thing, too, because one sibling became quite upset that heroic measures weren’t being taken at the hospital.
    Still, it’s so hard to know whether you’re doing the right thing. My dad was being given morphine to ease the pain, but at his last breath he refused it. I wonder whether it gave him bad dreams, or whether he felt it taking him under. Was it the hospice’s way of speeding the end, with the idea of lessening his suffering?
    One thing I learned is that death can take a long time. You get the word that someone is about to die, and you dash to their bedside, but then it can take days that are emotionally wrenching as you watch them try to hang on just a little more.
    I’ve been to just a couple of funerals in France, but they seem to be simpler affairs than the ridiculously expensive choices in the U.S.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience. I have heard that about long-married couples. It’s already tough to lose a parent, must have been especially hard to lose both so close together. My mother also had some issues with morphine in the final stages, and I’m not sure her pain and mental anguish were handled as well as they could have been. Having been hospitalized a few years ago, I realized that such drugs do have unpleasant side effects. Your experience with your Dad reminds me how utterly powerless we are in those situations. We must rely upon the medical personnel to make the right decisions and the staff to be kind and do the right thing.

      1. The staff were amazing. So gentle, and so wonderful. My dad had his wits to the end, so he was able to joke with them. The thing is, what IS the right thing? It isn’t always clear.

      2. You are right. And it sounds like you were lucky with having good support for your Dad. I think that each hospice should have specialists trained in palliative care, who understand how best to help individuals on their way out, who may not even know themselves what they want. Or feel able to express it to a family member.

  2. Yes I thinj about death, for it is so massively important and will happen for sure, it seems useful to consider the question . And I did seriously . I must say that it is for me a change of mood of being, like birth was, and I try to dissolve the veils that prevent consciousness from seeing the process of eternal transformation of this individual being who happens to be “I am” .
    But just think how life would seem an awful pain if we knew it will go on for, say, 800 years . We’d know we, as we know us, would continue for 700ish more years ! Personally when I face such a possibility I’m happy death exists, genuinely .
    Like you I want my body to be cremated as soon as possible . Until not long ago it was legal to sprinkle ashes anywhere but the law changed recently, probably for a question of bloody money . But does it matter ? We leave our body with our last expiration like we settled in it with our first inspiration . And it’s the kind of clothes we won’t put on again ,. So what importance where these ashes go ? It is not “I “, or he and she . Except as a stimulus for remembrance and feelings, I never could buy this westerners’ habit of revering a place where for me there only are atoms in their process of dissolution . Do humans really believe that anything of their beloved ones is there ? I’m not sure that humanity’s real level of conscience has progressed much since antiquity .

    1. Thanks for comment, Phil, and I think you are right: the limited time nature of life, while a huge source of stress, is also what makes it worth living. There’s also the issue of quality of life vs. quantity of years. As for the ashes, I also agree. We are long gone, so who cares? Perhaps it’s just a comforting thought that makes death easier to bear for us and those who are left. I also don’t agree with preserving the memory of someone in a specific place like a cemetery or ‘columbarium’, and the recent change in the law was probably indeed to ensure that someone continues to make money from it. Sadly.

  3. Like you, I believe that the law needs to change regarding choices at the end of life. I have no care for what happens to any remains I may leave and I thoroughly disapprove of graves/shrines of any sort which require visiting, but I have told my hubby that I would like friends to gather at the Watts Chapel near Guildford in Surrey. I am not at all religious but I would like everyone I know to see this beautiful place and to listen to a few of my favourite tracks as they do so. Then, after that, they can think of me only if/when they choose to and are reminded of me. Life is for the living and death comes only once. I think it’s best to get it over and let everyone get on with their lives. Sorry if it sounds brutal

  4. Very touching piece (as ever) on a very delicate subject. I totally agree with you that you should be able to select the way and when you die but I also understand that there should be ways to ensure that people who aren’t in a position to decide are protected. I also don’t want a funeral or even have a tombstone in a cemetery…

    1. Thanks, Suzanne! I did not expect to get much engagement on this post as death is not a very happy subject. Agree that the vulnerable must be protected, and there must be checks and balances to prevent abuse, but that shouldn’t stop those who want to be able to decide for themselves. It’s a fine line…

      1. Yes, a very fine line. One that we are struggling with in Canada. New laws have been passed to allow assisted death but it is still fairly controversial and I think everyone is trying to understand how to make it work so it is a balanced approach. A lot of debates but I think it is a good thing that we are at least talking about it and making small steps toward a better access.

  5. My mother has always hated November for the same reasons as you lay out. She associates it with death and although as she ages death is something she talks of quite freely she is just as afraid of it as the rest of us. Yesterday, on FaceBook I posted a slide-show which a friend of mine had shared of household names who have passed this year and some had quotes attributed to them. Actually Caroline Aherne was missing which is epically bad. But it was Prince who said it for me ‘because after all life is a party and parties aren’t meant to last forever’. In the wake of a close death this week, a woman the same age as me leaving two children who I have known since they were cinnamon scented babies it struck me that this is the only wisdom I need. In terms of assisted suicide, surely it is for the dying person and their closest to choose and not for the masses to disapprove. I hope we make that progress in my lifetime not because I want to chose my own death-time but because I believe we should respect the fact that there are circumstances that unless we are actually in them, we cannot possibly predict our feelings and it is not for the preachers to stand high and mighty and tell those that ARE in those circumstances what they can and can’t do. Funerals are for the living. I do not judge the choices of others but I certainly do not think that they should have to follow a set pattern. They should be a comfort to those who are grieving and a time to celebrate the deceased. When we lived in the far South West of Ireland I was more than once flagged down and asked if I was going to such and such’s wake – the first time I politely said I didn’t know the person and the response was ‘get yourself down to the hall, he’d be gutted if you weren’t there’ …. big raucous parties, booze flowing, tables heaving with food, music blaring and the point being the more the merrier even if you didn’t have a clue who had died. Now that’s a FUN-eral!

    1. Yeah ! In the same time when death puts a total end, our love for the new absent tends towards the infinite for a moment, and I find great to feel and maybe express it . One “magnifique” example of deep AND fun tribute is for me Graham Chapman’s eulogy by John Cleese . The first time I heard it I was taken high through this wonderful symphony of feelings . To watch it again, here : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CkxCHybM6Ek . (It’s better to know the sketch “the Parrot” first ) .
      Or you have this song by the immense Jacques Brel, a true vailiant knight, called “le Moribond” . In this one it is the new dead who says his lot to his human brothers and sisters, but the refrain is ” “I want laughters, I want dancing, when I’ll be put in the hole” . https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pZpTXJap6Fg . (This time it’s better to know just French …)

      1. Thank you for the reminder of John Cleese’s eulogy to Graham … I had forgotten it and it was great to see it again. Jacques Brel had it absolutely perfect but then I generally think he did!

    2. Yes, I think they can be forgiven as the list in 2016 is woefully long and sadly, poor Caroline was not known by many outside of the UK. Love the Prince quote. So true! An Irish wake sounds like fun… 🙂

  6. I would very much like to have the option of when and how I go at the end. The thought of my family suffering through a lingering, pain filled period with me has no appeal. Once gone, a simple non-religious ceremony with a few words from family maybe and certainly some of my favourite music (Kiss and Say Goodbye by the Manhattens maybe) then cremation and my daughter can either keep the ashes with those of my wife or scatter them in the hills of Wales.
    xxx Massive Hugs Mel xxx

    1. Thanks for sharing that, David. When the day comes (far off may it be in future!), it will be a comfort to your family to know that they are fulfilling your wishes… Given all of the wonderful music you share on your blog, that will be some fabulous playlist! Biggest bises xx

  7. So you see, death doesn’t seem to upset everybody enough to become a taboo of which, like Al-lah for the Sufis, nothing can be said 😊 I realized I was utterly stupid when I wrote that I DID seriously think about death while only the present tense is relevant . The process of befriending this black monster has no end, until the end, and must includes moments of receptivity that we don’t always decide .
    There is one thing you can find in several ways of individual progress around the world, it’s the advice of “using our death as an advisor ” . A very efficient tool is wondering “If I was to die this evening, would I be doing this, would I be like this, what would I DO NOW ?” See, a mechanical trick to evacuate the bullshit that encumbers our life and poisons our conscience, a practical way towards an ethical life . Which can be always a good thing, to face the black monster (in case), but immediately regarding the quality of the (short) rest of our life . 😊

  8. this month has been sad for us: we’ve lost our tomcat, he was only 9… 😦 November is often associated with death because of Nature’s ‘pale’ condition: naked trees, grey sky, cold and short days… it’s also the Scorpio’s sign – symbol of death and renaissance – like the Phoenix bird… 🙂
    * * *
    @”Do you think about death? What are your wishes?” – of course, I do: la mort fait partie de la vie… which does help me out to live better and to enjoy my earthly existence to the fullest… you may recall my Latin motto: memento mori, carpe diem & gaudeamus igitur! 🙂 I’m sure you know the translation… 😉
    * * *
    we’ve already chosen to be incinerated(cremated)… nous sommes “écolos” – à la vie, à la mort… 🙂

    1. So sorry for the loss of your cat, Mélanie. The thing with pets is that they are often closer to us in our daily lives and hearts than many close family members; they are our dearest companions, and their deaths are frequent reminders of our own short time here. I like your motto: let us rejoice! And yes, ecolo is the way to go! Huge hugs to you xx

  9. My best friend died unexpectedly last week, so, yes, I’ve been thinking about death. It’s a shock to find myself at the age when These Things Happen. I can’t predict, but if I know my own death is imminent, I think I’ll go out fighting.

    1. So very sorry for your loss, Kathy. I can only imagine how hard it is to lose a close friend, as this has not yet happened to me personally. Having it happen suddenly must make it all the more difficult, although a long illness can also be very hard. I don’t think there is an age where it seems normal to lose people, although I suppose with age the statistics weigh more heavily against us. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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