So my latest musings about the end, the Grim Reaper, kicking the bucket, being ‘no more’ (from my favourite Monty Python ‘Parrot sketch’), pushing up daisies, our final days, or whatever other expression you prefer to refer to the end of life began a couple of weeks ago when my dad sent me this beautiful interview of Leonard Cohen by Jian Ghomeshi on CBC.
Leonard Cohen is one of my favourite writers and singers of all-time. While even he admits that his singing voice isn’t the greatest, I am sure many of you will agree with me that it is his lyrics that hold the magic of his message. At the age of 74, we witness a man who has become wise with age (as is often the case) and has many simple life lessons to share with us. I highly recommend you watch this video to partake in what is on offer. What struck me most in this interview was Mr. Cohen’s view on death and dying. The young Jian at one point asks him if he’s scared of dying. The answer is based on what one of his great writer friends had said, “I’m not scared of dying- it’s the PREAMBLE that frightens me”. Here he speaks to our most human of fears- facing the end of our lives. He speaks specifically to the torrent of rushing anxieties that often plague us when we envision our death and the fact that our time on this earth is limited.
I feel that this has been stirred up for us collectively recently with the triple deaths of three superstars all coinciding closely together: Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, and Michael Jackson. It seems like many people are in a state of mild shock at the news of these deaths, and while I (and many of you) are very aware that there are millions of people dying all over the world every day, sadly, we often don’t hear about them in the mainstream media. I don’t believe we are grieving for these superstars specifically; I mean, don’t you think it’s strange to feel so much emotion for a person you never even met? I think that we are simply just grieving; something we don’t often allow ourselves to do on a regular basis.
As a therapist, I was taught that every loss we encounter stirs up our losses of the past. If we don’t grieve a loss at the time it happens (or shortly thereafter), that grief stays stuck inside of us waiting to come out. When a superstar dies prematurely and everyone around us expresses grief, I think we unconsciously give ourselves permission to let some of our grief out as well. And this can be very healthy and healing.
For me, Michael Jackson’s death also represents the end of a chapter of my own life – my tweens and teens. It was at that time in my life that his music was played everywhere you went. I took dance classes and we did an entire routine to his song, “Gotta Be Starting Something” and I can think of no better song to dance to when you want to just boogie around the living room and lose yourself in the music. His album, “Thriller” sparks so many memories of my teen years that I can’t even begin to list them. I’m not going to give a personal opinion of the man himself, nor psychoanalyze him, as that’s already been overdone. What I will say is that his death reminds me that I am no longer that carefree tweenie-bopper, that no amount of money can make you immortal, that the scars of abuse continue to be manifested in us no matter how successful and rich we are, and that yes, we all must face death squarely in the face.
I, too, like Jian Ghomeshi, wake up in the middle of the night sometimes gripped with fear at the thought of not being here someday (and especially when I think of those I love not being here), but this my friends, seems to be the human condition. I’d like to say I’m ‘past all that’ and that I’ve made my peace with the Grim Reaper, but that would be a lie. This is something I think we all have to keep working on and that hopefully comes to us before we come to an end ourselves.