Today for my AM Tarot tweet I drew Death reversed from the Tarot de Marseilles. The image is quite stark and dramatic. The only figure is the scythe-wielding skeleton. Various body parts are scattered at the skeleton’s feet, like something out of an episode of Dexter. There is a relentlessness and implacability to this image. Death no longer human, if it ever was. There is no reasoning, no pleading to be spared. Death does not make deals and no one is spared. As The Doors sang “no one here gets out alive”.
Modern society seems to do everything it can to stave off death or avoid facing its reality. Much of the medical treatment I’ve seen for the elderly seems to focus on maintaining life regardless of quality. They have the ability to stabilize the body but not actually improve the situation. So if a patient is suffering from liver disease or some form of Alzheimer’s or dementia, the doctors can keep the body going but not actually heal it. I’ve watched both my in-law’s go through this process. My father-in-law’s health would deteriorate to the point that he had to be hospitalized. We would be told he had a 10% chance of improvement. Then 2 days later he had been stabilized enough so he could return home only to have the cycle repeated a few months later.
I’m not trying to promote euthanasia (although the longer I see similar scenarios played out, the more of a proponent I become) and I don’t blame the medical profession for this situation. They are simply doing what society and the law demands they do. As a society we seem to have developed an imperative that death must be postponed as long as possible regardless of consequences. If a family decided to just let an elderly parent die at home by not taking her/him to the hospital, could the family be brought up on legal charges? After watching what my husband’s family went through with his father, I often questioned why we kept returning him to the hospital when his health deteriorated. We knew he would not get better. All the hospital could do was stabilize him enough so that he could return home. It was a relentless cycle that eventually broke my mother-in-law and led to the situation I now face.
I have come to appreciate that there truly are worse fates than death. Lingering on in a state of limbo is one of them. In fact it’s made me question why anyone would want to be immortal – assuming it was possible. Watching everything one knows and loves die or change has to case psychological damage. I become melancholic just thinking about the changes I’ve seen in my life. What would my mental state be after centuries of change?
In the original Star Trek they dealt with such scenarios in two episodes that I recall. In one, Capt. Kirk finds himself on an empty Enterprise with a female he doesn’t know. We eventually learn she is the daughter of the ruler of a planet The Enterprise has recently visited. The planet knew no death or illness and as a result had become so overpopulated that it could no longer support itself. At various points throughout the episode Kirk hears heartbeats and we eventually learn this is the sound of the hearts of the populace of the planet that surrounds the fake Enterprise. It is overwhelming to hear. The woman eventually becomes ill and is happy. That was her goal – to become infected with a disease which Kirk carried but was immune to so that she could bring it back to her people. Many had volunteered to become infected in order to ease the pressure on their planet and because they no longer wanted to live. In another episode, (Requiem for Methuselah) Kirk and Spock meet Flint, a man who has lived for centuries. He had been Leonardo da Vinci, Brahms, Alexander the Great among others. In an effort to ameliorate his loneliness he had created a android companion. The crew eventually learn that Flint is slowly dying and it seems it will be a relief for him.
Humans seem to crave immortality (some moreso than others). Many see their children as a way of achieving that goal. Others pursue public works or donate money so that hospital wings or even buildings will be named for them. The sad truth is that nothing lasts forever, not even the greatest works of humanity. The Pyramids and Sphinx at Giza and Stonehenge are slowing eroding. “Civilizations” great achievements – towering skyscrapers, enormous damns and glittering arenas can be washed away in an instant. Today’s celebrities are tomorrow’s “whatever happened to?” fodder. Today’s heroes become little more than entries in a history book to the next generation. The truth is that everything changes, everything dies. We do not need to court death but I think if we can manage to appreciate the blessings it offers we might find a sense of peace within ourselves about its inevitability.