The untimely death of a rock icon like Foo Fighters’ Taylor Hawkins brings to mind the famous quote from English Poet John Donne.
Never send to know for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.John Donne 1572-1631
Most people would rather not think about that bell. Instead, we shake our fists at the sky, saying Taylor died too young with so much left to give – which is true. But coming from a point of view that life is fair will only bring repeated heartache. It’s possible to be both a realist and an optimist about our short time on this earth.
We recently updated our wills. If that doesn’t get you thinking about your own mortality, nothing will. Maybe that’s why so many people put off getting a proper will. I think it’s something you should do, and then forget. Avoided, fat lawyers and a wasteful government will be your beneficiaries.
As a person who leans toward the Stoic philosophy, keeping the finality of life in mind isn’t depressing, it’s motivating. For example, I believe in being practical about stuff. Who doesn’t love nice things? But then what? Someone asked Jerry Seinfeld whether he thought about what will happen to his huge classic car collection after he’s gone.
“My wife’s going to liquidate it, and that’s fine with me. I want people like me to enjoy them. It should be like blowing on a dandelion.”The Daily Stoic newsletter
The Brain Wane
Death is a fascinating subject for scientists because we as a species don’t fully understand it yet. However, researchers in BC recently conducted an accidental experiment on the brain of a dying man that puts a new light on human expiration.
They were scanning the 87-year-old epilepsy patient’s brain because he had suffered a major seizure, when he died of a massive heart attack. His brain activity lit up just before and just after he died. They said it was like his life “flashed before his eyes” twice. Their observations were fascinating.
“Rhythmic brain wave patterns were observed to be similar to those occurring during memory retrieval, as well as dreaming and meditation.”The Daily Mail
Neuroscientists have for centuries tried to figure out this lightning flash of one’s entire life. So many people with near-death experiences, or who were clinically dead for a while, have reported it. One of the doctors involved in this latest research thinks family members can take some comfort from their findings. He now believes this brain wave activity is evidence that patients are reliving some of their life’s nicest moments as they pass away.
Many years ago, I woke up while undergoing surgery. I wasn’t dying but I shouldn’t have been awake. It was in the middle of the procedure – a serious but common operation. I’m grateful I couldn’t feel anything but I could certainly hear it. (I’ll spare you those details.)
My awareness began with an overlapping collection of voices speaking mundane sentences. My grandmothers and grandfather, long deceased, as well as just about anybody I’d ever met, it seemed, fading in and out. I later realized the voices – childhood friends, relatives, colleagues old and new – had arrived in chronological order. I came to think of it as a vocal memory dump.
Although I couldn’t open my eyes, I could tell there was a bright light above me. I genuinely thought I might be dead. To call it confusing is a gross understatement. I couldn’t move any part of my body although I tried. It was a massive challenge to not give in to rising panic. This phase could have lasted 10 minutes or 2 hours. Time was irrelevant.
As my consciousness slowly returned, the voices in my head faded like lifting fog, and I tuned into the voices in the room. I still couldn’t open my eyes. but I realized the bright light was the operating lamp. The surgeon and the rest of the team were discussing vacation plans as they worked on me. After the tube was removed from my mouth, someone was talking about a family trip to Maine. My sense of humour hadn’t left me because I said, “I hear Maine is beautiful this time of year.”
You could have heard a pin drop. Everyone was obviously shocked and couldn’t believe that I’d spoken. I expected to surprise them but I didn’t know how much.
The surgeon asked, “Do you feel anything, Lisa?”
“No”, I said, “but I have been able to hear everything for a while.”
“Okay, dear”, he said. “We’re just closing up now. You sure you don’t feel any pain?”
“No doc”, I said. “I promise I’ll let you know if I do.”
They finished the surgery in silence while I lay there, fully aware, hearing every stitch. Feeling it, but without pain. By the time I was wheeled into recovery, I could open my eyes. My surgeon walked beside my gurney and smoothed my hair down, comforting me, making sure I didn’t need anything. I remember laughing because that’s how I deal with stress. I laid in recovery for what felt like hours. After all, you don’t normally go there already fully awake. The recovery nurse later confided that my surgeon was “ripping the anesthesiologist a new one” for letting me wake up mid-procedure.
This frightening incident has stayed with me despite my admittedly poor memory. It was dramatic. Once I was home, I became scared to fall asleep and developed what was eventually diagnosed as PTSD. I got into therapy to get past the intensity of the memory. But it had a positive, effect, too.
Although I wasn’t dying, I’d experienced a lot of what the “near death” people said they heard and saw. It brought me peace and formed my perspective on death. Bright light. Voices of dead relatives. I analyzed it for a long time. No one else I know has had this experience. I trust my conclusion and I don’t think it matters that I explain it. It’s personal. You do you and I’ll do me.
We all want to live the best lives we can. The four biggest regrets dying people have, relayed by a hospice nurse, can give us ideas on how to improve our lives now, while we can. Hint: There’s nothing in there about a newer car or bigger house. You can say that Taylor Hawkins died while doing what he loved: rocking the road with his bandmates, his chosen family. From what we know about him, he wasn’t likely to have lived with many regrets.
When you’re with someone who’s leaving this world, it’s not only incredibly sad, it’s mysterious. Your primary concern is that they’re not in pain. But wouldn’t it be nice to know that my parents and your loved ones and those we admire from afar, during their final slumber, were remembering their happiest moments? And this new research means that might have been true.