The Other I

May 28, 2011

Memorial Day

Filed under: Cultural Differences — theotheri @ 4:06 pm

It is my experience that Americans talk about death more candidly than most English people I know.  It is also my experience that we talk about death in my family more candidly and more often than most Americans.  We talk about it a lot – how so many deaths in our childhoods affected each of us, about our own deaths and how we hope to face it.

This is probably due first to my mother.  When at the age of 46 she was told she had six weeks to live, she did not pretend.  For those of us old enough to understand, she talked to each of us as individuals about her hopes for us, her love for us, the strengths and struggles she foresaw for each of us.  My father faced death twenty years later with equal honesty, and so did my younger sister when she learned, also in her mid-forties, that her cancer was terminal.

Last week, my half-sister suffered a stoke, and she is now in a hospice with no more than days to live.  I never lived with her and we were not particularly close.  But so much of the past is coming back to be remembered again.

And now, as in the past, I have turned to music.  Not to my analytic words, not to my store of scientific knowledge, but to that medium that has never failed to take me to some level that I have never reached in any other way.

I can’t understand Death – real death of people I love or of my own death – through sheer intellectual analysis.  It doesn’t make sense that way.  I can’t accept it.

But music says something to me I can understand in no other way.  Sometimes it is folk or country, sometimes it is jazz.  But when I am staring at the loss of someone I love, it is Beethoven.

A poet may be able to say it in words, an artist with paint.  But for me, music is my meditation.  Music shows me a world I can see in no other way.

I have listened again today to Beethoven’s 8th symphony.  And I thought again, as I have often thought before, that if I know I am dying, I will play Beethoven’s symphonies, and I will not know when I slide from this world into whatever happens after death.  Because I will already feel that I have arrived.



  1. I’m sorry to hear about your family member, we are both dealing with life’s difficulties. I have a very dear friend who has suffered a stroke. I fear she won’t make it and the thought of this loss is almost unbearable. I also turn to music, music is my favorite form of prayer. I find such comfort in my music, it is also for me my mediation. Take care sometimes the journey gets tough…


    Comment by djc1 — May 28, 2011 @ 6:38 pm | Reply

    • Thank you, Donna. I too am sorry to hear about your friend. It was a grace, I think that my sister/cousin died yesterday without regaining consciousness. But dealing with the mystery of death is just that, isn’t it? Back to the music.


      Comment by Terry Sissons — May 29, 2011 @ 3:16 pm | Reply

  2. I’m sorry you are forced to face this mystery again. I’m grateful that you’ve chosen to do it, in part, through this beautiful post.


    Comment by Chris — May 29, 2011 @ 10:23 pm | Reply

  3. My family has suffered many recent losses. That of my grandmother I feel I have not completely grieved and my Mom has not been able either to completely release her death or her fathers and it has manifested into illness I feel. I am deeply sorry for your loss and I thank you for your post if only to relate that I too find solace in music. While visiting my Mom she was so ill and incoherent I couldn’t even enjoy music and now that she is slowly healing I finally can again. My Mom is suffering and has shared thoughts that she does not want to live. This is the hardest challenge I have ever had to face. \

    Death brings our own mortality to the surface and causes us to reevaluate our lives – our focus. May music heal us all and soothe our journey.


    Comment by agentofsound — May 31, 2011 @ 8:54 am | Reply

    • Thank you, too, for sharing your own grief. I think that the finality of death – the irrevocable end of this chapter – is something that we process over and over again all our lives. I’m not sure it gets easier either. But I do think we might get wiser. I don’t understand it, but as for you, music somehow makes me stronger. And more convinced that somehow death is something that must be. My deepest condolences for your own losses.


      Comment by theotheri — May 31, 2011 @ 7:42 pm | Reply

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