The Perfect Death
The following article was inspired by two people in an online chat room who heard about my cancer and then spent the next hour frantically telling me about various “miracle” cures they'd heard about. I didn't believe a word of it, though I did check out a few of their links. I didn't want to be rude, but I didn't feel like a debate about alternative medicine. I finally convinced them to switch topics, and gave them my sincere thanks for caring.
And wow, did they care. They seemed really upset! They desperately wanted to explore every nook and cranny to beat off the specter of my demise. Indeed, my situation had them in such a state of worry that it made me feel kind of bad about the whole dying thing.
Given my current precarious state of health, I have extra incentive to think about death. I don't actually think about it much, because as various people have observed at various times: death is easy; it's living that's difficult.
Nonetheless, the subject does cross my mind from time to time. Last night, as I walked the dog, it occured to me that I can think of two types of death, which I can relate to two different songs. I can imagine a rotten death and a perfect death. There are surely other flavors, but I can't imagine one that's an improvement on perfect.
Saving the best for last, I'll start by describing the rotten death.
Once, about 10 or 20 years ago, I heard a song on the radio that ended with a lonesome wail. I hadn't listened to the lyrics and I have no idea what the final wailing was about. Maybe he lost his girlfriend and felt like he'd never have another true love. I don't know.
Whatever the case, this singer really knew how to tug the heartstrings. That concluding cry of anguish somehow managed to pack in eternal loneliness, utter abandonment, existential angst, and a total loss of faith in ever again having a pleasant moment. As the song came to a close, it was as if the singer too had ended, leaving this world with a gut-wrenching "Whyyy!?" The song concluded with an icy-cold, agonized death.
It was so depressing that I'd tune it out every time it came on the radio. If I was in a public place and couldn't control the radio, I'd mentally tune it out. Anything to spare myself hearing that horrific terminal sorrow!
That, in my mind, is what a rotten death would be. A person whose last thoughts are that the dying is wrong! wrong! wrong! might also experience the emotions that song sobbed out to me.
Yes, there are unexpected deaths, and tragic ones, too. Some deaths linger, and some seem custom designed to slay any notion of human dignity. There are unjust deaths and strange deaths. But if the person was living in a certain way, right until the effective end, there's a chance that the death can be perfect.
At my funeral, whenever that is, I do not require a eulogy nor a public address. The people who want to think or talk about me can and will do so at their convenience. All I ask to happen at the final ceremony is that people sit still and listen to the entire 12 minutes and 16 seconds of the song “Starless,” by King Crimson. Then they can go home or go shopping. Whatever.
As they listen, they could and probably should ignore the lyrics. I do. To the extent that they think of anything as the tune plays, I'd like them to reflect that I have listened to that song well over a hundred times. And each time I found the ending absolutely ... perfect.
The ending isn't especially clever. By today's standards it might even be considered a bit hackneyed. But when the song finally reaches its last chords, you know it's over. And if you've been able to enjoy the musical piece, you'll be okay with it being over; you will have no desire for it to continue. It is complete. It is done. It has died a perfect death.
There are surely other tunes like that, and “Starless” is simply the one that resonates with me personally. But I can hope that anybody hearing the tune hears it the way I do: with no significant mistakes. The song lives vibrantly until the final moment, and when it dies, there is no need to go back and change a single thing.
If somebody really lives until their final lucid moment, then perhaps they might experience that same perfect death. Nothing can further complete a complete performance. Even mistakes contribute essential parts to the tune that was their life.
We humans tend to hang on, kicking and screaming, until we draw our last breath. If that's part of our living, then that's fine. But when death finally arrives, can we let go, knowing that enough was done by this one person? That there's no need to expect this human animal to add anything more?
Some readers may wonder what I think lies beyond physical death. I do not expect this consciousness to continue. Is that a problem? No.
Put it this way: I'm not overly concerned if my stapler breaks. There are plenty of other staplers, and lots of people who can make new staplers. The system that created my every moment will continue.
So it doesn't actually matter if I have a perfect death or not. It'll just be a whole lot more pleasing.