Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Proper Way To Die (Part 7/7)

If you haven't read the earlier parts or if you just want to refresh your memory, here are some links:

Part 1

Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6

You need not read them if you don't have the time; this post is almost unconnected. But it does help to read what went before this, to better understand what I have written here.

8. Epilogue: Stranger than Fiction

Well, there you have it - the proper way to die according to Essay Tea.
It feels good to finish this. It feels right. These are all things I've thought about for years. Over those years, my opinions have changed, the details have been refined and the mood has matured, becoming less melodramatic, more subtle. But the overall theme hasn't changed, my ideal death hasn't changed, at least, not in the essentials.
Writing this required a good long look at death and what it means to humans in general and me in particular. In the process, I've come to an interesting discovery: I'm not as scared of death as I used to be. I've reconciled myself to the fact that I won't be around forever, that a day will one day come when my energetic tongue and faltering pen will both be stilled. In that time, the consciousness that was me will disappear from existence. Everything that seemed important uptil that moment - earning money, eating, being liked, being loved - all of it will cease to matter. And I'm okay with that.
I think that's partly because I've finally written this down and shared it with a few people. Now I know that even if I die without doing all the things I wanted to do, saying the things I wanted to say; even if I don't die in the proper way, people will know what that proper way was. And in a way, by talking about it, I've done all of it. So I can die relatively peacefully, at least more peacefully than if I hadn't written this. So what I'm trying to say is that death doesn't scare me, but dying does. Just before I die, I want to be able to die without any major regrets, if nothing else. Dying with the feeling that I've wasted my life is a thought that terrifies me. So terrifying that the silence of death seems like a blessing compared to it because at least it puts an end to that kind of pain. 
Writing this brought out a lot of things I've been meaning to talk about - the Make A Wish Foundation, Munchausen's Syndrome by Proxy, All Things Must Pass, Poe, epitaphs, funerals, Douglas Adams, bucket lists, the afterlife, capital punishment... the list goes on. I shared videos, generated a meme and went from black humour to utter sincerity to morbid masturbation to anticipatory planning to rage and contempt and now this. I didn't mean for this to happen. This post was just supposed to be about an ideal death. All these digressions were all just... random by-products. And that, of course, is what this blog is supposed to be about and what it has never been until now.
But one last thing before I end this. I've been presenting a rather idealised scenario where I have perfect control over my death. but the inconvenient thing about life is that, most of the time, you have no control whatsoever. People die everyday. How many die as they would like to die? A very small number, I should imagine.
So since I've already talked to you about the proper way to die, dear reader, let me now cover the other side of the problem - reality. In doing so, let my words take on the ring of truth one finds in the words of prophets. Let me be free from unnecessary embellishment and present a fair, credible account of my death, if I can.

First things first, I won't be informed about my death. Death gives no proper notice. It creeps up on you like your shadow, so close at your heels that you forget it's there until you turn around and see it stretched out on the ground before you. People don't die with a bang as often as they do with a whimper. My death then must be unplanned and like the one foretold by Eliot for Tulliver: it "was not to be a leap; it was to be a long descent under thickening shadows."
I will grow old in a house not unlike the one in which I write this - not a palace, not a hovel. I will be in a line of work that I enjoy but complain about; that keeps me up late at night and takes its toll on my health. I'll scrimp and save for something whose name I don't know but until the time that I do, I'll be frugal. When I die, all that saving will seem pointless because I'll have never put that money to good use.
I will read a great many books but not as many as I would like to. And I would have understood and appreciated fewer still. 
Slowly, everything that I'm proud of will disappear, every mild irritation of today shall become like a curse - my hair will turn grey and fall out leaving my head as bare as it was the day I was born; my smile-lines will deepen and become wrinkles so deep they look like scars; each one of my teeth will fall out and I will be reduced to wearing ill-fitting dentures that continually slip off my pale, occasionally bleeding gums; my already weak eyes will fail me and I will stop reading; my already weak ears will fail me and I will stop listening to music; my already weak memory will fail me and I will not recognize you; my long nails will be trimmed short - so will my beard; the hair that once grew on my head will sprout instead from my ears and nostrils, rendering those orifices incapable of functioning properly; I shall be beset by boils and warts and corns and coughs and trembling; I will shrivel up like a raisin in the sun and my limbs will be like dry sticks; my ribs will be acutely visible, as if they were trying to rip through my skin and jump out of my chest - that is, if I haven't already developed a paunch; I will get diagnosed with diabetes, high blood pressure, all those tiny little ailments that can become life-threatening if ignored - consequently, my diet will be restricted and I will no longer relish my meals. Instead, I will be reduced to munching bland, flavourless food preceded and followed by pills and tablets. It won't matter that much though - I'll have lost my appetite long ago. My meagre strength will fade away rendering me almost immobile. One day, I will go to the bathroom without my walker, slip and dislocate my hip. It will never heal. I will be confined to my bed, occasionally making forays into the outside world in a wheelchair but gradually becoming more and more confined to my house. I will need to wear diapers and I will need someone to feed me. I will retire and my hours will stretch before me: long and empty. I will not understand new movies, new music, new books, new people. I will watch TV all day except there will be nothing interesting to watch so I will watch less and less as the days go by. I will write a few short stories, maybe even a few books that will be published and earn me a pittance. Every year I'll get some five hundred odd rupees as royalties. Otherwise, I shall live on my pension. My writing will be appreciated but not loved. It will not crash and burn spectacularly, it will not go unnoticed until some time after my death when it will be raved over, it will not make me famous. It will be complimented politely and then fade away, the last remaining copies left in libraries where they will be issued every other year or so and that too only to be scribbled in and to have pages torn out of them. Soon, my hands will start trembling and I will stop writing.
I will develop a taste for tea but have no one to drink it with. Friends are all well and good, but they outgrow you and move on after a while. I will remember my teacher's words about how friends for life are mythical creatures and will muse, not without some bitterness, on how true his words had proved to be. Oh, some people will visit me now and then. Some friends I'll probably make in my colony for lack of anyone else to talk to, who are just as old and decrepit as I am and just as needful of company. Family members - occasionally. 
Will I have a wife? Children? Will I die alone? Will I marry only to let my violent streak overcome me, lashing out at my wife in revenge for my own failures until she leaves? Will there be children that she will take along with her who will grow up away from me and without any fond memories of me? Or will I be infertile? Or will I be happy for a short while with a wife, the love of whom once passionate will slowly dim into that comfortable but dull bond characterized by petty arguments and disagreements that a misguided few call a happy marriage until my wife dies and my children move away? Will they bring me to their home when I'm doddering, out of some sense of duty? Will they let me live out my days in a quiet corner unattended to by anyone who isn't paid to do so? Will they talk to me in a loud tone and with slow, easily understood words as if I were a child? Will I have entered my second childhood, so much sadder and crueller than my first, cruel and sad enough as my first may have been? Will my mind, my reason, my intellect, my sense of humour - will all these abandon me? If they did would I still be alive? Or would I just... exist?
There will be birthdays. Mine as well. As I grow nearer to the centenary, the parties will become more and more lavish. But I will be beyond enjoying them. And I will die just short of reaching that milestone.
What last companions I have will start dying, one by one. So will the relatives from my generation. I will not be the last, but I will live long enough to feel the pain of seeing them go, one after the other.
It will be winter. My coughs will grow louder. My trembling will become violent. I will be rushed to the hospital over and over again and leisurely brought home again, over and over again.
Then, one night, while everyone is asleep, I will die. It will be painful, agonisingly painful, and unbearably slow, but I will be too weak to cry out. I will lie awake, clutching my breast, unseen by all. My breathing will become ragged, then slow.
In the last instant, I will look back on my life and I will have regrets - so many regrets. But I won't be able to do anything about them. Because my one chance at life will have been spent. I will slip into the darkness with tears in my eyes and then I will know nothing.
The next morning, I will be found and people will console themselves by saying I died peacefully, in my sleep.
I will be buried. The funeral will be a quiet affair. No songs will be sung. Well, maybe a few hymns. Probably not any of the good ones. Amazing Grace, maybe. There will be no grand speeches. Even if there are a few, they will be made by those selected for their proficiency with words, not for any particular bond between us. I know not many people will attend. My relatives are either dead, dying or were never born. My friends will have forgotten me. 
The next morning, there will be an obituary in the paper. If I'm lucky, maybe a short write-up as well. My friends will see them and feel bad about not spending more time with me. Then they will feel good about feeling bad and will forget me again. Some people will not know about my death until years later when they randomly think of me for no reason. They will either learn of my death and make appropriate but false noises, or they will forget to enquire and go back to their everyday lives.
My books will go out of print. All the stories people have about me will be passed down and then forgotten. My descendants, if any, will also eventually forget me. They will have no more memory of me than I do of my great-great-grandfather whose name I don't even know.
I will be buried with a plain marker. The most minimalistic of epitaphs because, as with my will, I will not have written my own epitaph - not because of superstition, but mere prosaic procrastination. 
When I was ten years old, my dog died. We buried her in the only pet cemetery in the city, far far away. We promised to visit her and plant some lemon grass on her grave because she used to love eating lemon grass when she was alive.
But we never visited her grave again. It's probably been emptied of it's contents and re-filled by now, for want of space.

I still feel guilty about that. It is only fair that I should suffer the same fate.
And so, slowly, my name will be effaced from this world. No one will remember it. 
It will be as if I had never existed.

Perhaps now you can understand why I'm so morbid, why I obsess over death so much. What I've just described wasn't fiction. It happens every day to millions of people. It seems odd that such a precious thing as a human life - something that can mean so much to some people; that can change the course of human history; that can bring so much joy and so much sorrow; that can work so much good and so much evil; that took so long to grow and blossom and flourish - it is truly odd that such a wondrous thing can just disappear so quietly without widespread lamentation of the fact that this unique consciousness that entered into the world has now left it and left it in sorrow and shame. That which should be marked by pathos is marred instead by bathos. And this happens everyday. 
No, this isn't fiction. This is the truth. And the truth is much stranger than fiction.
So that's why I do what I do. Why I try to be nice, to be a good friend, to forgive and forget. It's why I try not to complain too much or lose my temper too often. Why I dream and write and try to make people laugh. 
Because all I want, more than anything else, is to be remembered. I want my death to be noticed, if not by strangers then at least by the people I once loved, even if that love should have disappeared long ago. 
All I want is for people to mourn for me when I die, not just for a day, or a month, or a year. I want them to feel my absence, to feel as if something has disappeared from their lives, that the world, in some way, no matter how small, has become a slightly sadder place.
All I want is to be missed. To have my absence felt. To be remembered.
The sad part is that even though that's what my goal is, I never seem to come any closer to it, no matter how hard I try. My proper death is still a dream; my real death is still looming large - not a tragic death, but one that makes my life look like a sad joke. 
Is it any wonder then that I imagine nobler deaths for myself to escape the quotidian? That I take refuge in fiction? Oh, that I may die like Jean Valjean or like Sidney Carton! But sadly, I don't live in a Romance. If I did, I would die as soon as this was published and this whole exercise would become so much more meaningful, so much more... poignant. 
But, as I keep reminding myself, I live in the real world. And the real world is strange. Often unbearably dull and depressingly prosaic, but infinitely strange all the same.

RIP Essay Tea.   

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Proper Way to Die (Part 6/7)

7. Into the Beyond

I'm dead. But where am I? What happens to us when we die? It's a question that will never be answered. People claim that they know the answer. But they are either ignorant or they lie. Because the truth is that you can't trust religious texts - a lot of what you find in them is made-up baloney. You can't trust people who have near-death experiences - they could just be hallucinating.
Some believe that there exists a heaven and a hell. A place of eternal comfort and a place of eternal torture. Neither place exists. Science has found no proof of it. But logic can disprove it too.
If you believe in an omnipotent omniscient God, ask yourself - why does God make people do bad things? And if Fate is pre-written, isn't it unfair to punish those who were fated to be evil? But then there are those who say God gives man freedom of will. In which case, he ceases to be omnipotent because the smallest choice can have massive repercussions, as we know. Then what use is a God? None.
Some try to ride both horses. They say God allows freedom of choice, but he only selects those whom he believes will make the right choices to carry out his will. Or he engineers circumstances such that there is only one path. In which case, human will is an illusion and reality is ultimately deterministic. Which brings us back to the unfairness of heaven or hell. 
And can there even be one heaven or one hell? What is desirable for one may not be so for another and vice-versa. If you hate rock music, then heaven should be rock-music free. If you love it, it should be everywhere. If you hate being whipped, Hell would involve day-long lashings. If you're into BDSM, that would be heaven. So does every person get their own personalized heaven or hell? Isn't that a bit confusing? 
Take another example. Say I'm a huge Beatles fan. Say my idea of heaven is an eternal Beatles concert. But only two out of four Beatles are dead. So I couldn't actually watch them perform until Paul and Ringo are dead. For that matter, what if the Beatles are tired of performing? Then wouldn't forcing them to play for me forever be hell for them? But what if they deserve to go to heaven?
One solution is that I see the Beatles performing, but it's not actually them - it's an illusion. The real Beatles are lounging in their own heaven, presumably filled with LSD and Elvis records. But then am I really getting my wish fulfilled? Isn't it all a lie?
And wouldn't freedom from cares and want and worries and death become... boring? It's the darkness in life that makes the light shine forth. Otherwise we take it for granted. In fact, it is often through struggle and tribulations that we arrive at Truth. In their absence wouldn't our existence be meaningless? Heck, there's even a children's animation movie that discusses this - All Dogs Go to Heaven 2.
Others say we cannot understand the nature of heaven. That in heaven, we shed all worldly form and desires. That we experience pure, undiluted bliss.
My earthly form and desires are an essential part of who I am. So are my vices and weaknesses which, presumably, wouldn't go to heaven or hell with me. So, technically, I would never enter the afterlife, someone else would. Because without my desires, my weaknesses, my emotions, my body... I'm not me.
And anyway, is there truly a right or wrong thing to do in every situation? Is there a balance to maintain? If I murder millions and help millions at the same time, where do I go? 
No, there is no heaven, no hell.
Let's look at Hinduism. Is it dharma, duty that matters? But dharma is a fluid concept. The Kauravas went to swarglok. The Pandavas experienced narak. Is that fair? Rama killed Shambuka, a shudra, because his tapasya was a violation of dharma as a result of which a brahmin's son died. The solution? Why Rama beheaded the shudra of course! That's blatant casteism. When the lower castes threaten the upper castes or rebel from their place in society, they must be exterminated. If that is dharma, it is truly execrable.
Some may argue that Shambuka was trying to attain celestial powers like Ravana. So why wasn't Ravana beheaded likewise before attaining his powers? Others may argue that one should not take these stories literally. Well, unfortunately, many do and kill and discriminate because of it. Condemn them before you condemn me. If it was possible to get one story so completely wrong, how do we know for sure that the rest of religion isn't equally messed up? 
Screw dogma.
Now let's look at Buddhism. Far more enlightened. Desire chains us to this world. It is only in detaching ourselves from the world that we can attain Nirvana. Otherwise we remain trapped in the Cycle of Birth and Re-Birth. A noble creed that has spawned noble people. And almost scientific in the idea that the lifeforce is constantly recycled. But then how is one expected to change? The cycle would be endless unless we learn from each birth. But I can't remember any past births, if any, very few people do and most of them are frauds. So how can I be expected to change? Is the change an unconscious one? In which case, the universe is once again deterministic. 
This is similar to the idea of perfection in Jonathon Livingston Seagull, one of the most inspiring books I've ever read. There, the seagulls are doomed to relive the same lifestyle over and over again until they learn something new and attempt to improve themselves. This then results in their ascension to a higher plane of existence where they learn even more. This isn't heaven though. The cycle recurs infinitely. The seagull must strive for perfection. To do so, perfection must cease to be a number, a goal. It must become infinity and the desire to become part of the Great Seagull that permeates all things. That's quite similar to Nirvana. 
Or in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, where all the dead, good or bad, descend into a gloomy subterranean world inhabited by harpies. They then have to make the journey back to the surface, telling the harpies stories of their lives along the way. If the harpies think you have truly lived, they take you onward. If you have wasted your life, they devour you. After reaching the surface, you become Dust, dark matter, and merge with the universe. Your consciousness becomes part of the fabric of reality, along with everyone you have ever loved. You literally become one with nature. And in doing so, your consciousness is used to construct the consciousness of new sentient living beings.
That's the most beautiful theory of the afterlife that I know. It incorporates ideas of punishment and the importance of a life well-spent. At the same time, there is a recycling of life, not involving rebirth. It becomes more scientific, more like a natural process. Conservation of matter and of energy.
And I believe that comes closest to the truth. Your lifeforce is recycled, but your consciousness is lost forever. The same theme is found in one of Edgar Allen Poe's lesser known (but one of my favourite) short stories, The Colloquy of Monos and Una, where after death, you retain your senses but lack any form of agency. Your senses are heightened and as you decompose, you become one with the environment. You can sense the life-processes of plants, the movement of ants, the range of biochemical reactions taking place in the soil. You become nature. In other words, the carbon cycle extended to one's consciousness. Your sense of being, however, erodes away with the time. It is replaced by a sense of Place and Time. You cease to be an individual consciousness. Instead, you become the soil, you become the grave. 
I believe that is the truth. Almost. There is no scientific proof of any of this. But it makes sense, doesn't it?
Both these theories have something in common - the dissolution of the individual consciousness. And even if neither is true, even if science alone can give the answer, that is what I believe death is.
You know Occam's Razor right? All things being equal, the likeliest answer is the correct one.
What is the likeliest answer? It is this:
Death is the end.
After you die, there is nothing. Darkness. Silence. No emotion. No sensation. Infinite nothingness.
Try to imagine it for a second. Nothing. Forever. That is perfection. That is infinity. That is Nirvana. No good, no bad. No right, no wrong. No flaws. Just... nothing.
It may seem terrifying at first. We're all scared of the dark, of silence. But it isn't, really. Our consciousness too is destroyed. We cannot feel fear or anxiety or unhappiness anymore. We too are nothing.
Doesn't that sound like what people say heaven is like? The shedding of all mortal cares, forms, desires?
Personally, I would love it if there was nothing after death. Why? Well, you see, whenever I've had a rough day, a long one filled with a lot of good things and bad things and excitement and disappointment and lots of running around and lots of work, after the end of a day like that, you know what I want most? You know what I yearn for? 
Uninterrupted, dreamless sleep.
I believe a man's day can be taken as an allegory for his life.
I believe that when I die, I'll welcome it. I will have become tired and disillusioned with life. I will have experienced enough joy, enough sadness, enough regret, enough anger, enough exhaustion for one lifetime.
All I would want is sleep. 
A long sleep. What could be better than infinity?
A quiet sleep. What could be better than the cessation of all feeling?
A dreamless sleep. Why would I want an illusory heaven or hell?  
To me, such a death is worth longing for. It is worth living for. And, of course, it is worth dying for.

And yet, it is horrifying. It means this world is all we have. There is nothing more. Do you understand now? 


If you are unhappy now, you will never be happy. Because this is the only world. People may remember you after you're gone, but it will mean nothing to you. You're not there. You're not anywhere.
Understand death. Understand now how monstrous an act murder is.

As Clint Eastwood said in Unforgiven: "It's a hell of a thing; killin' a man. You take away everything he had and ever would have."

Do you understand now why there shouldn't be a death penalty? Death is not a toy. It is not something Man should wield. 
You kill a man, you kill everything he is. You rob him of everything. 
That is why murder is so monstrous. Why sentencing a man to death is unnatural. No man has the right to take away everything. Only monsters do that. It is the ultimate crime, No matter what the justification for it is or the intentions behind it are.
Death is the greatest force of nature in the universe. Trying to control it is like trying to control a tornado. It's wrong, it's impossible and it's dangerous.
So the next time you feel like killing someone out of spite, the next time you demand death for a crime... shame on you. 
It makes you no less human - we all think these things at some point or the other in our lives. I know I have. But, for that instant, we are the worst things human beings can ever be. 
If anyone deserves death, it is those who wish to inflict it upon others.
Shame on us. Shame on all of us.

To be concluded...

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Proper Way to Die (Part 5/7)

6. The Memory Will Never Die

And so, after bidding my loved ones a teary farewell, I close my eyes and enter the next dimension a la Dragonball Z.
But how am I to be remembered?
That's where the funeral comes in.
I used to want to be cremated and then have my ashes buried because fire is possibly the most amazing thing on the planet. At least, that's what cartoons taught me. And if the ashes were buried, then people could still visit, maybe leave a few flowers now and then.
But then I realized that if on the off-chance that I wasn't really dead, just comatose, being set on fire is not the best way to go. Neither is being buried alive, but at least I get a fighting chance. Edgar Allen Poe probably wouldn't agree. The guy was obsessed with being buried alive. In his stories, the very idea is terrifying. It's a recurring motif though. You'll find it in The Cask of Amontillado, The Fall of the House of Usher and, of course, The Premature Burial.
So, burial it is.
Epitaphs are important. A lot of people write their own epitaphs. It could be something really deep and ominous like Shakespeare's:

Good friend for Jesus sake forbear,
To dig the dust enclosed here.
Blessed be the man that spares these stones,
And cursed be he that moves my bones.

Some believe that the purpose of the threat is to guard Shakespeare's biggest secret - that he never wrote any of his plays.

Many people believe Shakespeare was just a frontman for someone else who wrote his plays but didn't want attention for it. And some even believe clues to the identity of the real author are buried with Shakespeare's bones. A certain Delia Bacon almost dug up his grave to find out, but eventually chickened out. maybe she doubted her theory. Maybe the curse scared her away. Who knows?
So yeah, maybe I should have a scary epitaph on my tombstone.
Or it could be something devastatingly funny like Spike Milligan's:

I told you I was ill.

Given a choice, I'd prefer funny and memorable, but a meaningful epitaph is pretty enticing. I'll get back to you on that one.
I actually wrote an entire poem in the form of an epitaph. It's on this blog. Look for The Tombstone Talks. Actually, here's a link.
Now another great thing about a slow death is that I get to plan out my own funeral. Unlike Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, not everyone has the luxury of witnessing their own funeral, so at least this way I'd get a vague idea.
My model is Douglas Adams' funeral. Moving speeches by noted personalities and musical performances by famous artists (all of them friends, naturally). The speeches should be funny and nostalgic. Nothing too weepy. The songs? That's more complicated. There's such a long list of songs that I'd love to have played. I'd rather not go into it here, but maybe I'll put it up one day on my music blog, The Glass Onion. As for the kind of songs, some hymns, sure, but mostly popular music. A recent study shows that more and more people are opting for popular music to be played at their funerals rather than hymns. Why? I think it's because people just generally like pop music more than hymns and rather than have people listen to how their spirit was saved by God and is destined for paradise, I think they'd prefer them to groove to some nice tunes. I am reminded of my previous complaint that no one listens to music when you offer it. Maybe that's the root of this trend. People just wanting their friends to shut up and listen to what they like for a change.
And who says pop music can't be just as meaningful as hymns? At my funeral I'd want songs that are poignant, but uplifting. A celebration of life whilst marking a transition, a passing. The best example would have to be George Harrison's All Things Must Pass. In fact, you know what? My funeral should be like
The Concert for George.

Oh, and if not a single Beatles song is played at my funeral, I might just come back as a zombie and kill myself.
How else would I like people to remember me? The best way, of course, would be to remain alive in their memories. To have my friends remember some of the good times we'd had. Maybe laugh over them together whenever they meet. If I remember correctly, Shakespeare left his best friends enough money to buy a gold mourning ring each for them to wear in memory of him. Even though that has got to be the height of conceit, let me have a little fun and add to it.
I'd also like a scholarship or prize or something to be instituted in my name at my school. I've benefitted from such prizes in the past and I'd love to give back in the same way.
What else? A memorial quiz? That would be cool.
A Wikipedia page? Yup. I know you can do it for free with just about anyone as long as you don't make stuff up, but still, it'd be nice.
But the one thing that I'd really love, that may just be a pipe dream but which is the single greatest indicator that you've made a difference in this world, at least in our modern world, has got to be - a commemorative Google Doodle.
That would be badass.

To be continued...

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Proper Way To Die (Part 4/7)

5. The Long Goodbye

Someone told me I may have Munchausen Syndrome. Now, I'm familiar with Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy, which is straight out of The Sixth Sense, but not the syndrome itself. I could guess though. MSBP is basically when an adult caring for a young child intentionally makes that child sick or prolongs the child's illness, just so that he/she (the adult) can care for the child.
Now that's fucked up.
The regular syndrome, however, is basically faking or exaggerating symptoms in order to get treatment or sympathy. It's different from hypochondria as the patient knows he's faking it, whereas a hypochondriac honestly thinks he's unwell.
Now while that is pretty close to what I've been talking about so far, there is a difference. 
I don't intend to fake an illness or impending death. I'm probably on the border though, so do me a favour and keep your eyes open for any warning signs.
Back to the hospital room. This is where it gets fun. Assuming, of course, that I don't die immediately. That's no fun.
Here's where I explain why dying a slow death is better than sudden death. You get time to plan stuff out. How you're going to say goodbye to all your friends and family. What you want your funeral to be like. Your will. Hell, maybe even your last words and epitaph.
Of course, there's a downside to a slow death as well. Extremely painful. The people you love are forced to watch you slowly slip away. You may lose your memory, become immobilised, maybe even become a vegetable. But then all that's going to happen eventually anyway, when I get old. At least, by dying young I'd be spared all that humiliation.
One point in favour of untimely deaths is that it makes an impact. People tend to remember you, miss you more, overhype your work. Look at Lennon. Hell, look at the entire 27 Club! You've got to hand it to the 27 Club though. To think you could become a legend around the same time other people may just be settling into their chosen career! Hell, I was born on the same day as Hendrix (different year, obviously), I'm nine years away from being his age when he died, but I haven't done shit!
Update: I wrote this almost a year ago. I am now eight years away. Tick-tock, tick-tock.

But I digress. The main advantage of a sudden death is that you're spared the indignities of a slow death.
But that isn't for me. Think of all the loose ends I'd be leaving behind. So much unsaid. So many people who would never know how much they've really meant to me.
Much better to die slowly. When I die, I hope at least the people who've made a difference in my lives come to visit me. My family. My teachers. My friends. I'd try to find the words that best encapsulate what they mean to me. I'd thank them for just being there for me. Maybe reminisce. Maybe extract promises.
I'd like to tell someone where all my unfinished writing is. Notebooks, Word documents, scraps of paper... I'd hate for them to be lost forever. I'd love for them to be published someday. But perhaps that would be counter-productive. Look at Kafka. Look at Virgil. Both of them died leaving behind express instructions: their writing was not to be read - it was to be destroyed. Thankfully, their friends disregarded their instructions and so we have the Aenid and Kafka's novels and short stories. I would imagine that story and the knowledge that mankind nearly lost those works only enhanced the value accorded to them. So maybe the smart thing to do would be to ask someone to burn everything I ever wrote and hope they have the decency to disregard a dying man's last wish. But what about the Word documents? Deleting just isn't as grand as a bonfire.
As for a will, I don't really have much to leave behind. Most of my stuff would probably stay with my family. Maybe I'd give some of my books to my friends since I was always averse to lending them whilst alive. My guitar would probably go to my music teacher to give to whoever he thinks needs it most. My mp3 player? Ah, now that's a tough one. I doubt the songs on it would mean as much to anyone else as they do to me. Anyway, nobody really listens when you try to make them listen to your favourite songs. I don't know why though. To me, when a friend offers me his music, it's sacred. It's only when I really like someone that I offer my earphones to them. It's an expression of trust, of camaraderie. 
So far, nearly every friend I have has failed this acid test of friendship. They say no. They say they'll hear it later. They don't. Then I post it on their Walls on facebook. Then they listen.
We really are a narcissistic race. 
Oh, and passwords. It's very important to leave behind a record of all your passwords for your various accounts. Google, facebook, those retro gaming sites, whatever. That way your family can still reply to people who don't know you're dead and maybe keep you alive in cyberspace, although that would be kind of creepy. 
The technological equivalent of keeping a preserved corpse in your freezer.

So there I am, in the hospital, my friends and family around me. I've talked to them, I've said stuff I'd only say over my dead (or dying) body. I've confessed secrets, I've forgiven people, I've asked people to forgive me. 
If there's someone I've secretly had a crush on in the room, I've probably tell her. I've probably laughed about it. Have I deathbed-blackmailed a kiss out of her? Well.... 
If there's a Catholic priest on hand I've probably confessed and had the Last Rites administered to me. Always wanted to see that.
Hell, that would be my real Bucket List. Be sincere, don't keep secrets from friends, make amends, apologize, forgive and forget, say thank you, be fearless, let people know you love them, awkwardness be damned.
I would finally be doing all the things normal people are supposed to do to live honest, simple, happy lives but which real people never seem to get around to doing.
Sad, that.
A man can only truly say he has lived when he's about to die.
And even that isn't a sure thing.
I hope I can say I have no regrets. 

I die.
It's quiet. It's slow. 
I smile. Or not. 
My eyelids close. Or someone shuts them for me. 
If there's wailing, I'm not there to hear it. 
If there are tears, I'm not there to see them.
I'm gone.

To be continued...

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Proper Way To Die (Part 3/7)

4. The Revelation

Wait, wait, wait... I just said I wouldn't want to tell anyone I'm dying because of all the annoying attention it would garner. So what's with all this talk of revelations?
Quite simple. The attention is only annoying in excess. It's extremely desirable in small doses. Hell, that was the entire point of this exercise! I would tell people, but only right at the end, when there's just enough time left for me to reap all the benefits of impending death without reaping any of the annoying solicitous bastards who come with it.
I said 'reap'. R-E-A-P. And no, I don't mean it as an anagram.
Now, obviously I can't just tell someone. That would be really awkward.

"Hey man, wassup?"
"Nothing, nothing. You?"
"Oh, I'm dying."
"Yeah, right."
"No, I'm serious."
"Prove it."

So that's a lot of time wasted there. And it doesn't even end after proving it. Then I have to explain why I didn't tell anyone.

"Because I didn't want you to worry or make a big fuss about it!"
"Then why are you telling me now?"
"Because... um... now I'd like you to worry and make a big fuss about it. Pretty please?"

See? Lame.
So I'm forced to resort to filmi stereotypes once again.
Long argument with someone I care about. Probably about how I don't spend time with them anymore.
Other person says a lot of mean stuff. I don't because death has given me a sense of perspective or some kind of sappy bullshit just like it.
The argument escalates. Voices are raised, accusations are made, things are said that can't be taken back, you know the drill.
And then...
I collapse.
I'm rushed to the hospital. Hopefully there are no traffic jams on the way.
I'm admitted to the hospital. Hopefully there are no protocol-worshipping doctors from Munnabhai MBBS on the way.
While I'm in the ICU, my friends find out that I'm dying. Now see, in this scenario, not wanting a fuss is a valid excuse as it isn't weakened by the fact that I'm telling them now since I'm not the one telling them now, someone else (maybe a parent, maybe a doctor) is because there's no other choice.
Did you understand that sentence? Good.
So what happens? The impact is much stronger. They feel a lot sadder about my death since they now think I'm some kind of noble martyr who didn't want to bother his friends with something so trivial as, oh, I don't know, the frickin' end of his life as he knows it, even though that's complete and utter bullshit. 
Come to think of it, there's a lot of bovine faeces involved in this process. I'm not proud of it, but it's necessary.
It's necessary because I don't want to be remembered as a petty douche even though I am one. So yeah, I'll pretend I don't want people to worry about me even if it involves barefaced lies like, "No, no, don't worry, don't be sad, don't cry."
Yeah, right. 
Of course I want them to worry. Of course I want them to feel sad. And I wouldn't mind a couple of tears.

After all... that was the whole point!

To be continued...

Negligent doctor - You didn't know your friend was dying? he told me aaaages ago!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Proper Way To Die (Part 2/7)

(Quick note: For those of you who don't know, I'll be adding more to this theme every three days)

3. The Bucket List

Since we're on the subject of movies, the question of the bucket list needs to be tackled.
For those of you who don't know, a bucket list is a list of things you've always wanted to do, but never had the guts, but you definitely want to do before you die, or, in other words, kick the metaphorical bucket. It was made famous by a 2007 movie starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, called, unsurprisingly, The Bucket List.
Now, here's the problem. If I haven't told anyone I'm dying, then I can't really do all the stuff on my bucket list without making some people suspicious. I mean, can you imagine this conversation:
"Hey, dude, I heard you dropped out of college..."
"To become a matador..."
"In Barcelona..."
"While learning how to scuba dive and play the violin...."
"At the same time."
"And now you're going bungee jumping."
"Nope. That's next week. This week's skydiving."
"Because the bungee jump guys were all booked up this week."
"You know what I mean."
"Ummm... I had a religious experience?"
"I watched an inspiring movie."
"I'm kinda dying."
"Oh you poor thing! Can I hold that helmet for you?"
Followed by a long attempt to convince me that death isn't scary, that I'm really brave, that people die all the time, really it's nothing yadda yadda yadda.
See what I mean? Annoying.
Also, I don't think I'd have enough cash or time to do all those things. But if I had more time, presumably I could still be cured or medicated, which is then a completely different scenario.
As for money, I'm reminded of the Make A Wish Foundation. Basically they're a non-profit organization that seeks to grant the last wishes of terminally ill children, to give them hope, strength and joy before they leave this world, provided, of course, that the wish is possible to fulfill. I've always felt that's a really cool idea. As a kid I always dreamed of getting a chance to, I don't know, learn a new language or become rich and famous or meet my favourite author or get superpowers or become a martial artist or be inserted in an artificially created video-game-like world a la The Matrix, so the idea of getting wishes fulfilled is really appealing.
I think that's probably where this obsession with a slow death began. My over-active imagination would create these elaborate fantasies that could never in a million years come true. As I got older, the fantasies got more realistic. For my dreams to come true, it would have to involve a break from reality. Hence the introduction of a convenient far-fetched plot device like a wish-granting genie. Then, when I learnt about the Make A Wish Foundation, it was like I'd found out that genies were actually real. Except, they were only real for dying kids. So, like with all kids, my fantasies took a morbid turn. Whenever I was sulking or sick, I'd imagine I was dying and think about how everyone would be sorry for being mean to me after I died and maybe how my wishes would finally come true, thanks to the Foundation. And since I sulked (and was sick) a lot as a kid (and only a wee bit less as.. well, not quite an adult), I've had a lot of time to think things through. Which is how this blogpost was born - it's a message from ten-year-old me.
Problem is, I'm already nineteen and eighteen is the maximum age for your wish to be fulfilled by the Make A Wish Foundation since, obviously, you're no longer a child after you turn nineteen. Legally at least. I can still picture myself making That's What She Said jokes at age 69. See, I even inserted an age with sexual connotations while talking about it!
Although, technically, that's immature; not exactly childish. It's cool though, I'm childish as well. I still like Pokemon and I still cry if I'm really upset.
Nonetheless, the Make A Wish Foundation is probably one of the most noble causes I can think of. Maybe I'd make a donation if I had the money.
But anyway, let's stick to one hypothetical scenario.
What I could do is tick off the least expensive and time-consuming things on my bucket list like acting in a play/movie (I know that takes time but a bit part would do), or performing my favourite songs live, or going on a date with a girl and kissing her (preferably with her permission).
In any case, I wouldn't want to do anything really tiring or scary. So no bullfighting or bungee jumping or paragliding for me. I guess I'm just too lazy. And anyway, I want a slowish death. Slightly less scary, enough time to come to terms with my mortality. If I died while bungee jumping, I'd die really suddenly and painfully and in a terrifying way. I don't want that. Why not? I'll come to that later.
What I'd really love to do is publish a book, but that takes time and money.
So that's one downside - I'd probably be dying without really doing anything meaningful in life. I'd never become a writer or get married or have kids or anything like that.
And that's precisely why I would never intentionally do this, never intentionally kill myself. The scenario might be cool, but it isn't worth all the regrets that go along with it.
Maybe some day I'll actually put my bucket list down on paper. Maybe I might even it share it here someday, like a friend of mine once did with his blog (No links. I've put up enough links to his blog in my post. Just surf around a bit, you'll find them easily enough).
Not now though. Not yet.
But enough doom and gloom.
Let me enjoy my imaginary death spiral.
The whole point is that it's just... happened. Call it fate, Providence, bad luck, random accident, whatever.
The point is, now that I'm dying, how can I make the most of it?

To be continued...

I may not have a list, but I sure as hell have a bucket.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Proper Way to Die (Part 1/7)

Have you ever had days when you wished you were dying of a terminal illness?
Okay, before anything else, let me clarify: I'm not being suicidally emo here. I'm not talking about wanting to die because I'm depressed, because life is no longer worth it, blah blah, moving on...
What I mean is this: I think the whole "on my deathbed" experience would be really cool.
Very filmi, but still cool.
Let me explain. I'll do it in steps.

1. So You're Dying...

Okay, first things first. I go to my doctor because I've been experiencing weird symptoms - chest pains, coughing blood, wounds that won't heal, whatever. And I get diagnosed with some kind of terminal incurable disease, and I have just a few days or maybe months to live. Not more than a year at any rate.
Now let me be clear, I admire people who are diagnosed with, say, cancer and then decide to fight it by undergoing chemotherapy or surgery or other treatment.

But in this case, it's very important that there is absolutely NO chance of my recovery AND that I'm still mobile.
Now comes the tricky part...

2. Telling People

Now, unless I went to the doctor without my parents getting to know about it, which is unlikely at this stage of my life, they're going to be the first people (after me) to learn that i'm dying. But the question is, should I tell other people?
Let's weigh the pros and cons.
If I tell other people, I'll get sympathy, understanding and presumably they'll start making a lot of time for me.
BUT they would also probably become overly solicitous. They'd start being extra nice even if I was a douche and probably pity me, which could easily get annoying.
Since I've established that I'm mobile, if I tell no one, I can still continue my normal life while hiding my symptoms and at the same time making preparations for my demise in private.
Plus, if somebody accidentally finds out that I'm dying right after being really mean to me, they feel guilty as hell (yes, I'm really that petty), which is really the best revenge there is. There's nothing more despicable than making a dying dude's life hell.
Need I mention that in most "Guy has a week to live" type movies, this is also exactly how the protagonist gets the girl?

To be continued...