We have been having potentially morbid conversations about if, and how, we would like to be remembered, starting with the funeral service. This was brought on by my father-in-law sending an updated will. The level of detail he had gone into was quite unsettling, so we started meandering to distract our minds. My father-in-law wants a braai party with all his family and friends and his favourite music instead of a funeral service, and he wants to attend in the form of his ashes on the mantelpiece. If he’d thought about it he would have asked to be the table centrepiece I reckon so that is where I would suggest we put him to make sure he doesn’t miss out. I guess he wants to be remembered as the fabulous host he is.
Personally I hope that my children will cherish some memories and that they will feel they have learnt something from me. Beyond that I couldn’t care less. If my greatest desire were to leave an imprint in the universe then I’d do it in my lifetime. So I told my husband that if I were to die first – which is highly unlikely, given his diet and the statistics on life expectancy – he was free to mark my passing as he pleased. Or not at all. To which he promptly answered that he was planning to have my ashes blasted into space. I am left wondering what I am most upset at: the fact that he had an answer ready, or the idea of being flung the furthest possible away. I guess he has made his point: it seems I do care what happens to me after I die.
You don’t want to have to fill someone else’s shoes. Well, only those brimming with confidence and ready to dazzle do. Most of us would be daunted by the prospect of being compared to a much admired predecessor. The only thing worse is to have that someone else be your mum or dad. Things get really complicated then, a tangle of emotions: respect, independence, admiration, originality, loyalty, wanting to impress – who exactly?
You don’t wish for the shoe to be on the other foot either. You want things to go one way only: yours. That’s how it’s meant to be. The shoe fits, and you want to wear it.
You don’t very often put yourself in someone else’s shoes. But what if you did? You would see you through their eyes, seeing the benefits and pitfalls they are seeing, making it a whole lot easier to navigate the landscape that separates you. The different perspective could open whole new worlds. You would get much better results from your interactions with people. Sometimes a slightly different result than you had anticipated, but a good one that has also improved your relationship with that person. Of course there are those who play this as a game to outwit their opponent and win, but even facing those guys you are better off playing informed.
Why would anyone want to live forever? Or even live twice as long as everybody else. I simply don’t understand. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a confession of a depressed person about to slash their wrists in the bath while everyone is out to the movies. Life is a gift and all that, I wouldn’t miss it for anything. But
a.) we have a problem with overpopulation on this planet that we have not cracked yet. Unless we spend equal resources on a solution for the question of how we are going to feed and water all those people and provide them with the health, energy and space they crave, any resources diverted to research into eternal life are misguided.
b.) does your life really become more valuable as it lasts longer? Imagine the scenario: Because you are super smart or were selected for an experiment by visiting aliens you have acquired the know-how to keep yourself alive and in good health for twice as long as the average life span of the people around you. Well done you! Better start planning all the great things you will now be able to do that you never thought you would have time for. You can visit those far flung islands and the hidden valley at the foot of that volcano filled with rare species; you can learn five more languages and try a few new sports. You could even buy a bigger house, because you will be working twice as long. Snag 1! Unless you really love your job this was perhaps not the picture you had in mind when you decided to take that drug. Oh well, you’ll manage. You take another look at your life, and realize that your partner will be getting older and speeding towards death twice as fast as you. So will your friends. Your children will catch up with you. It dawns on you that you will be spending the second half of your life without all the people you know and love, unless you take some drastic measures. You brew some more of your miracle potion or beep up the aliens, and convince all your loved ones to take the drug too. They will only agree if they can offer it to their loved ones too, but you don’t have enough miracle potion or the aliens are just mean. Snag 2! Do you really want to start all over with friends and family once the first lot have all gone?
Life is a sociable undertaking. A feeling of accomplishment is relative to how others do, not to outliving everybody else. I am with the Southbank Centre in London, whose “Festival of the Living” is making a case for more personal rituals around dying: enjoy life, and exit with personality and grace. This is what I intend to do. Must remember to write that will.