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[personal] Weekend update, a bit of mortality - Lakeshore — LiveJournal
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Jay Lake
Date: 2012-01-15 06:52
Subject: [personal] Weekend update, a bit of mortality
Security: Public
Tags:cancer, child, family, health, personal, stories, writing
Yesterday was fairly good in some ways. I got another 2,500 words in on "You Will Attend Until Beauty Awakens". [info]the_child made substantial if rocky progress on homework with an assist from me at several key junctures. She and I had lunch with my parents, as well. We also wound up rewatching the first Harry Potter movie on DVD last night. As an added bonus, my overnight dreaming included [info]kylecassidy talking at me from a television, his head shaven and horky black hipster glasses on his face.

At the same time, my dinner date cancelled due to the flu, which was a mild bummer for me and a much bigger bummer for her. More importantly, yesterday I learned of two recent deaths. An old friend of the family — of my parents' generation — died of complications from a severe stroke. And a young writer friend of mine died of complications from metastatic breast cancer, leaving behind her infant daughter. In neither case was the death especially surprising in a larger sense, but in both cases it was unexpected by me.

I don't walk around in a depressive fugue or anything like that, but I find myself a lot more sensitive to mortality issues these days. As I said to another friend recently, talking about personality changes under extreme stress, the biggest change I see in myself over these past 3.75 years of dealing with cancer is that I've utterly lost my once boundless optimism. (It was John Pitts who pointed this out to me.) I don't think I've become sour or withdrawn, I just have no faith in my future. I've been shot down way too hard too many times in the past few years to feel like flying high any more. Neither of these deaths are about me in any way, and I wasn't especially close to either of the women who passed away, but I still feel them like a leaden cloak upon my bent shoulders.

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User: keikaimalu
Date: 2012-01-15 15:18 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I have a theory (yep, another one) that the human mind isn't capable of really processing its own mortality, and so to live well, you have to live in denial of death. When that denial gets torn away, and you see that death really is coming for you too, you end up in this state of permanent cognitive dissonance. "It is true, but it can't be true."

Many religious practices aim to peacefully incorporate an acceptance of death, but even there, the belief structure says that there is some part of you that lives on -- which is still a form of denial of death. Doesn't help atheists much.
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User: rekre8
Date: 2012-01-15 16:48 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I kinda agree, but I think it's cultural rather than physiological. We started making life 'cleaner' wich lead to less visibility into the source of food on your table as well as less illness and death at all age groups, and at the same time have done a lot of buffing of the youth, who upon growing up were shocked when their peers did start dying, and so did an even better job of insulating the youth. Not that being callus about death is a good thing, but recalling the older warrior cultures (or at least the Hollywoodization of them), there seemed to be a bit more acceptance of yup, it could happen, but let's go do this risky thing anyway.

Jay, I hope you can find the balance between 13th Warriors's "today is a good day to die" and that leaden cloak. I also want to point out that I typo'd dye throught most of this post - I seem to be in that same denial keikaimalu points out.
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User: voidampersand
Date: 2012-01-15 17:20 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Can atheists live in denial of mortality? Hell yes, they do it all the time. Is it intellectually consistent? Of course not, but why would that stop them? The human mind is inconsistent. Cognitive dissonance is normal.

Being in denial is not a conclusion reached through careful and logical thought. It's a refusal to accept some aspect of reality. It's irrational. But there is usually some rationale to it: life is better if you can live in denial, at least for you, if not for those around you. One of the great benefits (seriously) of modern society is that people can safely and happily live in denial of so many things.
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User: shelly_rae
Date: 2012-01-15 17:19 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I was close with one of the women who passed away. She left two children and a husband and many, many friends. Cancer sucks. But life and death go hand in hand. Like R I choose to live as fully as possible.
Be well.
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User: joycemocha
Date: 2012-01-15 22:58 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Losing both parents and parents-in-law in my thirties really slammed things home for me at a relatively early age, and then when we had two kids connected to the school die within weeks of each other, well...that was ugly. Even so, I think my friend having her husband die within a week of her retirement party hit me hardest of all. I could so see that happening to me.

It never gets easier to deal with. Death always comes as somewhat of a shock, even in expected situations.
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User: a_cubed
Date: 2012-01-15 23:25 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
In my late twenties I received my usual Old Boys newsletter from my high school. I used to check the obituaries, to know if any of my teachers had passed on. I never expected to see a classmate in there, but at about 28 one of my fellow classmates from my final couple of years was listed. Because we were arranged by A-Level subjects and I took an unusual set, there were only five of us in that class. That was my awakening to the fact that my gneration not only can but will die. I don't think I live in denial of death. You live until you die, however long that is, and you probably won't know even approximately how long that will be. The thing is to make the most of the time you have until then. Balancing immediate benefits with long term goals according to the circumstances. I think our host's acceptance that he may not have a very long time still among us just changes the balance of expectations.
On the other hand, there's a lot we don't know about how the mind effects the body, particularly in things like cancer, so while being realistic about hopes and goals, I think maintaining the basic optimism that it might still go well, is important, too.
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User: adelheid_p
Date: 2012-01-16 01:34 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
In reality, any of us could die tomorrow. None of us knows for sure what the end of our lives will be. You know one of your possible demises. Our minds seek patterns and yours has found what seems to be one, but still may not be one. It is natural to be rocked by a death, even of an acquaintance, as you contemplate your own. I'm really sorry for your losses, especially of one so young and with such a young family and child. I'm sorry for all of your losses due to the cancer including that of your optimism.
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Kari Sperring
User: la_marquise_de_
Date: 2012-01-16 14:00 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Two years after I graduated, a girl from my year was killed in a skiing accident. I didn't know her well -- I think I only spoke to her once or twice. But her face has stuck with me all through the years, because of what she did not get to have. That thing that we are all diminished by the deaths of others? Very true.
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