Life Fades Away
A reflection on the theme of “life fades away” —
dedicated to senior citizens everywhere, but may we all take these words to heart while we can.
Though it feels like yesterday, over a year ago my wife and I were enjoying Sunday lunch at the Czechoslovakian Club with her father, Henry. A member, who had recently turned 90, stopped at our table for a chat. He had been active in the Club, and over the years we had gotten to better know him and his wife. We asked how his wife was, and his reply has remained etched on my mind. He simply said: “She’s fading away.”
Recently, I unexpectedly discovered the lyrics of a 1987 song, co-written and sung by Roy Orbison, and entitled “Life Fades Away”. It has the same words in the title and refrain as used by the Club member in referring to his aging wife! Although the song is written to a loved one, it can have meaning for all of us.
Again, I reflected on the words, “life fades away”. How true this is, especially as we reach our senior years. We have less energy than before. Tasks take longer to accomplish and there’s never enough time!
Another aspect of life fading away is that activities pursued with ease a decade or two ago, such as work on the house or longer trips, become less and less possible – and the experiences and destinations themselves become fading memories. Friends and acquaintances of times past have gone their separate ways, aged and even passed away. Their names too are becoming a harder to remember, or in some cases, a dim memory.
For each of us, our days on earth will come to an end. No-one goes on living indefinitely in their physical bodies. Everyone who has been born (or will be born) will die. A few might live a long time, even past a hundred, but then they, too, will be gone. For others, life can end unexpectedly at a younger age – and suddenly it’s too late to do all those things that were planned and dreamt about.
Be assured that this theme of dying and death is not meant to be morbid or depressing! Rather, if we can accept its reality – and as much as possible be prepared for dying – then we can depart from this life with greater peace and contentment.
When the time comes, it is said that we should be ready to leave without clinging to this life such as to our money, home, work, hobbies, and loved ones. Otherwise, our final thoughts will not be peaceful, but worried, anxious, and fearful. This will only make the transition more difficult.
“Life fades away.” This aptly describes the dying process when there is a dissolution of our bodies. Signs of approaching death that commonly occur for everyone are: First, there is a loss of physical strength and agility; mentally, our perception becomes less clear. Secondly, we experience a sense of dryness and increasing thirst; the mind is more easily agitated and susceptible to confusion. Thirdly, we begin to feel cold; our perceptions of external phenomena alternate between being clear and unclear. Finally, we experience difficulty breathing; our thoughts become vivid and we may feel disoriented. These signs indicate the diminishing connection between the mind and physical body, as well as the mind and the external world. (Based on Mind Beyond Death by Dzogchen Ponlop.)
Some believe that at the end of their life’s journey they will simply become extinct – like the dead cockroach on the garage floor. With our mind and heart, we need to prove for ourselves whether this is indeed true or not.
Nowadays, with scientifically documented near-death and out-of-body experiences, as well as other after-death research, there is much to think about. There are accounts of people who have crossed the threshold of death and returned to tell about it.
Evidence exists that at death, our soul separates from the body. While the physical body dies, and over time disintegrates, the soul continues beyond death. Consciousness remains. In this sense, death is only a transition from one life to another – it’s like a veil, but not the end. Some people feel that when someone close to them dies, the person is still with them in a deep, undefined, and mysterious way.
Our memories will follow us beyond death. When a person goes from this life, the memory of them stays behind with those who knew them. We hear the words, “I’ll never forget you.” But interestingly, memories of those left behind go with the departing person as well!
When we meet the situation that will be the cause of our death, such as a terminal illness – and life begins to fade for us personally – it’s important to remain as calm as possible, and to maintain a peaceful and positive state of mind because it is said that our final thoughts exert a powerful influence on our after-death journey.
May we live ready for that final moment – for taking our last breath – and to die at peace, having reconciled with all of life. And in the meantime, may we each do our best to help others and engage in positive deeds.
“Death does not wait to see what has been done or is still to be done” (Shantideva).
“No matter how much you’ve been warned, Death always comes without knocking. Why now? Is the cry. Why so soon? It’s the cry of a child being called home at dusk.” (Margaret Atwood)
© Alexander Peck (edited by Eva Peck)
Here is a reflection on aging from John O’Donohue.
ON AGING: Nothing Is Lost
“In a strange way, nothing is ever lost or forgotten; everything that befalls us remains within us. There is within you the presence in a refined sense of everything that has ever happened to you, and if you go looking for it you will find it…
It would be lovely in old age, as the body sheds its power, if each of us who would be pilgrims into that time could shed the false gravity and the weight that we carry for a lot of our lives and if we could enter our old age almost like a baby enters childhood, with the same kind of gracefulness, of possibility, and the same kind of innocence, but a second innocence rather than a first one…
Old age, like illness, is a time when you really need to mind yourself… If you look on it as a time of possibility, amazing things can happen… In old age there is a lot more time, and freedom comes with that. In old age one can totally reorient one’s life and find fascinating companionship with one’s own soul…
Ideally, old age can be a time of great liberation and freedom. It is a time when a lot of the social mystification and mythology calms down, and you return to the essence of things… we were taught to prepare for life rather than to live it.”
[From John O’Donohue, Walking in Wonder (Convergent, New York, 2015).]
See also Krista Tippet’s interview with O’Donohue by “On Being”.
Here is a music rendition of the song “Life Fades Away” by Roy Orbison. The words appear as subtitles and are easy to follow. They can be read here.
Header image from PRIMO Collection