the MIRREN LEE

The 2012 Act Three Journey of an Actress/Coach/Writer.

Day 290 The Big D

Posted by themirrenlee on 19/10/2012

Most people don’t like to talk about death. They don’t even like to think about it. The word itself is almost taboo, which is why we make up euphemisms for it: passing/passed/no longer with us/dearly departed. In Hollywood, using the word “death” in a movie title is considered bad luck for its success, despite evidence to the contrary. “Death Becomes Her” (comedy with Meryl Streep, Bruce Willis and Goldie Hawn), “Death Wish” (there are many versions, but Charles Bronson’s 1974 film was the first), “Death Race” (Jason Statham), even “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” all did satisfactorily at the box office (and I’ve only named a few).

We hide our fear in black comedy and jokes. Woody Allen’s famous, “I don’t mind dying, I just don’t want to be there when it happens,” springs to mind. Along with, “Death is God’s way of telling you to slow down.” Black comedy is my favorite kind, and people like the “late” (another euphemism, as if they’re going to eventually show up!) George Carlin rode the edge of people’s comfort zones with precision and wit.

Nicky was scared of flying to Melbourne yesterday because he was afraid the plane was going to crash. He’s a leukemia survivor, but when he got it at 6 years old he had no concept of how serious it was. He hated the treatments, but only started to realize what the illness meant as he got older. I think it’s unfortunate that our society is so afraid of death, and they pass that fear onto children so that the cycle of fear never ends. What would it be like if, from the beginning of life we taught children that death is just part of life, and nothing to be afraid of? I find it extraordinary that we have so many people in the world who say they believe in a religion, that usually involves going to some kind of paradise when they die, and yet they’re still afraid of doing it!

I love “Star Wars” for the concept it brought into our consciousness of a Force, because that’s what I believe: life is ruled by energy, by the Universe, by The Force, whatever one wants to call something that we simply can’t explain, but feels so right to me. It’s basically a Buddhist way of thinking – we are all part of an energy force, like single drops of water that go “home” to the one giant pool when we die. I’m also a Spiritualist, though, so I believe in reincarnation. I didn’t have to work hard to get these beliefs. I was exposed to seances in my twenties by my three Scottish Spiritualist Aunties, and eventually stopped doing them because I didn’t feel capable of controlling the results that occurred. However, I still have psychic experiences, and have seen apparitions, and feel no fear about death.

I think my philosophy is best summed up by the saying that “We are spiritual beings having a human experience”. My spirituality believes in visualization and communication with the Universal Energy, so I believe prayers are a lovely idea. But I also believe a line from the play, “Sister Ignatius Explains It All for You,” by Christopher Durang: “It’s not that God doesn’t answer your prayers, it’s just that sometimes the answer is no.”

I never talk about my “faith”, though, unless specifically asked. I feel no need to convince others of anything, and I only wish those who have dogmatic religious beliefs – which I respect but will never share – would do the same.

There are, of course, rituals for every taste when it comes to funerals. I, personally, never understood the need for one at all until my siblings shut me out of my mother’s death. One of my brothers rang me and said, “We cremated, Mom, and I’m taking her ashes up to my property. You owe me $500.”

I grew a pair for a minute (this was pre therapy) and told him to fuck off, but it haunts me to this day that I never got to be a proper part of her dying, which took a long time (breast and lung cancer). That lingering feeling of having wanted to say goodbye still gives me dreams in which she’s alive and I’m saying to her, “But I thought you were dead”. I often wake up bewildered and disoriented, and sad all over again, as I realize that it was just a dream.

So I understand now that a ritual to “say goodbye”, and even more importantly to get together and share stories about the person as you knew them, is really good for those of us left behind. I believe the dead are just fine; it’s the living who suffer with the hole left in their lives.

George, Katie’s father, adamantly did not want a funeral, or a big deal of any kind, made out of his death. Just a quick cremation. But because funerals are for the living, she and his sister organized something anyway, modest as it was, so that people who knew him could say goodbye. In other words, to achieve that sometimes overused word: closure.

The only thing they did that I have always found fairly horrifying is something most people are quite comfortable with: they hired a celebrant to talk about George and his life. The idea that someone would get up and talk about someone they had never even met, no matter that they got details from the family beforehand, just kind of creeps me out, and I’ve made it clear that I would never want that. In fact, if the people who know me can’t find it in themselves to talk (which is impossible because most of them are natural performers!) and run it alone, then they can just have a big feast and share stories with each other, focusing on my foibles and whatever else makes them laugh. Everyone who knows me knows that I consider humor to be the single most important element in life for getting through it with your sanity intact. And if anyone even attempted to play “You’re the Wind Beneath My Wings” or “My Heart Will Go On” I swear to the Universe that I’d haunt them forever! My taste would run to songs like “They’re Coming to Take Me Away (Ha Ha)” and “Life Gets Teejus, Don’t It?”. (Try Google.)

I also understand wanting to have a memorial to the “dearly departed”. We have a natural inclination to want to mark a place where we feel they’ll “exist” forever, rather than deal with the reality that we’re all really, ultimately, just dust in the wind. So I “bought” a theater seat at La Boite in Brisbane, where a friend of mine let me know about the event as a fundraiser. My mother was a bohemian, creative person to her fingertips – she was an artist, a performer and a writer, so I’m pretty sure she likes the gesture, which was really more for me, of course.

So those are my thoughts on death. The funeral for George was today, so the closure has happened. And yet it hasn’t, really. Because one thing we often ignore is the fact that it’s after a death that things can get really complicated, when there may be estates to settle and debts to pay for the deceased. Maybe squabbling over who gets what. Again, the “passer” is at peace – the living are coping, while still trying to grieve. Sigh … life can be so complicated when it comes to leaving it.

I’m just sayin’ …

2 Responses to “Day 290 The Big D”

  1. My biggest fear is not my dying but knowing what my children and family will suffer my lose and all the things, I would not get to share with my child all that life as to offer. With my first pregnancy, I nearly died and then I got pregnant again, my fear was actually dying and leaving my child without a mother. I decided that if God called me home then He was going to take care of my child or children, and I wrote letters to each of my children on different topics to express all the things I wanted to tell them even if I am not here.

  2. That’s really lovely on so many levels. That you would think more of the loss that your children/family would feel, and that you’ve left part of you for them to have if the day should ever come. I know you’re a Christian, and I’m glad your faith works for you in the fear dept. I also believe that everything happens for a reason, it’s just that I refer to it as the Universe’s plan, rather than God’s. There are many different paths to reach the same destination.

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