Tales of a 21st Century Gypsy

March 10, 2004. Death.

A friend emailed me a painting of his today, for the tarot card representing death.

Iíve never thought before about how death might look. His was fiery, a huge landscape with a yellow river and an orange sky with balls of flame drifting down, a skull hanging in the air and skeletal fingers rising from the ground where there should have been trees. Fantastic and unreal. Interesting and horrible. But not my vision of death.

If I were to make such a painting, it would show a square spiraling tunnel constricting inevitably, where one has no choice but to move forward, even though moving forward means being closed in, less opportunity to choose what you do or who you are, no windows to see the rest of the world, less room to move, and eventually less air till finally you are suffocated. Itís a defined point at the end of the spiraling tunnel, where you can only move down the tunnel and never turn back. Like getting diagnosed with cancer and being given six months. Thereís no light at the end of the tunnel, just the end, spiraling in and getting narrower and narrower till finally you are reduced to that point, with no dimensions, and youíre squeezed out of the world. The colors would be cool blacks and grays, not hot yellows and oranges. The horror wouldnít be fire or skeletal figures, it would be knowing that you were coming to the end of your place in the world, the end of light and air and wind and water.

Original art and photo by Timothy Kender.

This evening I heard a group of oncology nurses on the radio, talking about their ideas of a ďgood death,Ē so they could help their patients better. After some discussion, many decided they would choose to die of cancer, because it would give them time to figure out the most important way to spend the time that was left. It would give their friends and family time to get used to the idea that they were dying. It would let them say good bye, and tell the people in their lives how important they were. They felt that was easier for the others in their lives, and would force them to think through their own lives while they still had the chance.

For me that seems like the ultimate horror. Itís a sentence of death, being told I have to walk into that tunnel. And forcing my friends to watch me walk the tunnel. Two of my oldest and dearest friends died unexpectedly, and it was hard. But I think it was easier for them. Surely Marion didnít know it was coming. Weíll never know whether Paul did, or whether he died by choice, but if it wasnít a choice he probably didnít know it was happening either. At least Iíd like to hope so. I donít know whether my father was glad to have eight months to adjust to his own death. By the end he wanted to go, so perhaps that was a good death Ė he was glad to reach the end of the tunnel by the time he finally did.

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