On death

Memento, homo … quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris’ (remember human, that you are dust and to dust you will return)

Interacting with a skeletal chassis wrapped in a black cowl and wielding a farming implement of questionable hygiene seems a little dated. (and let’s be honest, somewhat Pratchetty*)


* look at me, creating an adjective.

Having never experienced death, I’m loathed to hypothesize on how our interaction will play out. I imagine some surprise (on my part) possibly followed by some light Q&A, maybe a pamphlet or laminated brochure being thrust at me, ‘Welcome to the afterlife’. Hopefully I will think of something witty to say, I’d like to make a good first impression. I think that might be situation dependent though, difficult to say something clever if you’ve just died in a suicide bombing and you’re preoccupied with picking drywall screws and bits of pressure cooker out of your skull (well.. what’s left of it)

Then again population dynamics being what they are, perhaps I’m being optimistic for a personalized experience. It seems more likely that we all get corralled into some sort of foyer or boardroom (along with the proletariat of the world) for the Death powerpoint FAQ. Which will likely fail to live up to the expectations, given the agitated excitement of the recently deceased.

After snacks and a bit of light banter we get separated into groups, based on religious preference, and led down markedly different aesthetic corridors. Atheists, agnostics and mixed faith couples unwilling to be separated are left to mill around aimlessly in the foyer. ‘Your representative is running a little late’, says Death. Which is somewhat of a relief. That we even have a representative I mean.

‘Something about the Hell-mouth over flowing’, Death mumbles. The audience shares looks of concern. Death laughs, ‘I apologize, a little joke I make, gets you guys every time, ha ha.’

It amuses me to consider some form of post death experience. For the most part it keeps me entertained about the inevitable. As Monty Python famously said, ‘Always look on the bright side… of death’.

For the most part however we as Homo sapiens aren’t amused by anything involving death. (From now on I shall refer only to the process and not the individual) We take it all very seriously, so seriously in fact that we attempt to prolong the inevitable. Not content with just kicking the bucket down the road (so to speak), we also spend an inordinate of time and effort creating narratives ranging from reanimation to resurrection to reincarnation to deal with post event uncertainty and potential consequences thereof.

What happens when we die? I have no idea. I mean I understand that we bloat, rot and get served up as a delicious all-day buffet for a menagerie of microorganisms (More than usual I mean). But that my consciousness is somehow backed up into an ethereal soul that streaks skyward on my demise, unfortunately, feels unlikely. If pushed for an answer I assume my consciousness just ceases to exist and that I disappear. Although to be fair, it’s difficult for me to conceptualize nothingness.

The good news is my thoughts and belief system(s) are completely irrelevant. As are yours. Untested and unprovable they remain purely theoretical until some future yet undetermined date. But feel free to continue any formalized rituals or mental models that you suppose might prepare you for the end, I certainly will.

Homo sapiens as far as I can tell have two purposes, to breed and then to die.

As to the former, breeding, we spend a disproportionate amount of time preparing ourselves, practicing our technique, validating mates and then post procreation, mopping up vomit and making aeroplane noises. In contrast we spend almost no time all considering our second prerogative, death, which is far more guaranteed and much less optional.

Death is an uncomfortable conversation. Only psychopaths, depressed people and philosophers think about death and dying. Death in my culture at least has become almost a taboo topic. I have (almost) never engaged with a co-worker at the water cooler about the manner in which they would like to die. Which is strange considering it’s a commonality we all share.

My genealogy is that of the Teutonic and Scandinavian tribes, who thought about death quite a lot. For the male of the species their entire life was dedicated towards a glorious end. Death in battle guaranteed a spot in the feast hall of Valhalla, whereas slipping in your own piss, falling down a gravelly incline and breaking your neck merely meant an entry on the waiting list (probably near the bottom). Better to die with an axe embedded firmly in your face and skip the queue.

But then out with the old gods and in with the new. Glorious self-serving death becomes a frowned upon exercise. (Along with masturbation and bacon*) However death is still very much in vogue. But more of the martyrdom variety and then once a critical mass of adherents is achieved, inflicting death on other faiths.

*both of which I love.

Since then dying seems to have picked up a lot of negativity. Possibly because it is so often prefixed with pain. The death part, as far as I can tell is completely painless. It’s the preamble that frightens us and then potentially what happens afterwards.

41 million minutes. That’s roughly the time allocated to me. Statistically speaking. Of that, at the venerable age of 38 I’ve used up 21 million of my minutes already. Leaving me with roughly 20 million minutes. (back of a napkin mathematics) Of that, I’ll be sleeping for at least 6 million minutes of that. Leaving me…. 14 million minutes. This is assuming I survive long enough to achieve my statistical allotment.

On some level we all know that life is short. We bandy about idioms like ‘Carpe diem’ and the more churlish ‘Grab life by the balls’. All of which are supposed to impress upon us the shortness of life and, that we really should get off the couch and ‘get after it’.

Is waking up every day and pretending that this is your last day a viable strategy? On the face of it I’m inclined to disagree, but only because I can imagine days like this to be frenetic, hedonic and ultimately exhausting. But that is more based on my personality. I often marvel at other people’s endurance to cultivate such a lifestyle and more perhaps more importantly to thrive in it. I have none of that zeal,. (I am completely dysfunctional until infused with at least one caffeinated beverage)

I have however, (recently) decided that since I am here and conscious, I should at least give try impress upon the world that I existed and leave some sort of mark to prove that ‘Jo was (in fact) here’.