The Reality of Mortality

DeathLooking back at the past year, there was a great deal of the good life and a solid reminder that life, good or bad, always ends in death. As The Flaming Lips recently reminded us, everyone you know someday will die. It was hard to forget that in 2005.

Mother Nature's Brutal Force
It was still 2004 when I wrote this entry about the devastating tsunami that sent huge waves crashing into coastal resorts across south and east Asia. At that time they were predicting a death toll of 23,000. It soon became clear that figure was way low. As we began 2005, we were offering unprecedented relief while learning of unprecedented body counts.

As August came to a close, Katrina struck. On September 1, I wrote this entry about her brutal blow to New Orleans and the desperation and danger she left behind. Death was everywhere; floating in the streets, trapped in flooded buildings and even in the home stadium of the New Orleans Saints. If the flood didn't kill you, the contaminated water would, we were warned.

In October, with the massive death tolls from the tsunami and hurricane Katrina still being tallied, an earthquake hit South Asia. Thousands and thousands more would perish. Again, the footage from the disaster scene was horrifying. Mother Nature had made her point loud and clear. She could be as brutal as she is beautiful.

The Terri and John Paul Death Watch
I wrote about Terri Schiavo in March. Terri was in a persistent vegetative state with no hope of recovery. Terri's husband fought to have her feeding tube removed while her parents fought to keep it in place. The media frenzy surrounding the Terri Schiavo death watch was highly disturbing but it forced everyone to choose a side in the debate regarding ones right to die. Death was the lead item on the news and Terri wasn't the only reason.

Pope John Paul II had been quite ill and at the end of March there was much talk of his imminent demise. On April 1st I sat down to write an entry entitled "My Pope Is Dying" but instead wrote this. He would pass away the next day. The death watch concerning both Terri Shiavo and Pope John Paul II overwhelmed the month of March and continued the death theme started on Boxing Day 2004 with the tsunami. As I realized the fragility of life and mortality of us humans, I needed something to put this bleak smog of death into perspective. I needed something to remind me of the natural role death plays in the cycle of life and that it isn't to be feared. That would come, in of all things, a television show.

Six Feet Under's Finale
I had followed this series from the beginning and felt it was second to none when it comes to dramatic television. In August I sat down to witness the finale which I wrote about here. It was another great episode in another great season of this great show, but the final ten minutes brought everything home. We witnessed the death of every surviving main character. We saw how they died, who was at their funeral and how old they were when they shuffled off their mortal coil. It was highly interesting and most effective.

Watching the Fisher family age and die had the most calming effect on me. We're all going to die. You're going to die, I'm going to die, your best friend is going to die and your worst enemy is going to die. It's up to us to make the most of life and accept our inevitable demise and the inevitable death of our loved ones as an essential component of this exceptional ecosystem. If we're lucky, we get a lengthy and happy life as Claire did. If we're unlucky, our life is cut short a'la Nate.

In my lifetime, I don't remember a worse year of natural disasters. Throw in threats of an Avian flu pandemic, the Terri Schiavo media circus and the passing of the Pope and we have a year draped in black funeral attire. With the foul stench of death in the air, "Six Feet Under" put everything in perspective and eloquently presented the reality of mortality as a concept I can fully understand, effectively inducing catharsis.

We all need catharsis.


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