How will you be remembered when you no longer exist?
I am going to discuss what sometimes feels like the undiscussed and that is how fragile life is. This is a topic that none of us can escape and often the proof that life can be so temporary comes crashing into our lives completely out of the blue. Towards the end of this article, through existential thinking, I will suggest ways that having an awareness of our own mortality and holding an awareness of the mortality of all people and living things around us, can be useful within our life span.
What was the inspiration?
A few things have happened in recent times that have really woken up my awareness of how temporary life can be. The sad death of Keith Flint, the lead singer of The Prodigy is one of these things. His death has struck a chord in my own mortality as I will now not be able to strike something off my bucket list, to see The Prodigy live. I have recently watched a BBC documentary about Billy Connolly living with Parkinson’s disease. This really felt like Billy was winding down his life, his experiences and acknowledging what he can no longer do. This both felt like an amazing experience to see all he has done in his lifetime but also felt gut-wrenchingly sad to see this vibrant life energy winding down for the inevitable. Another thing that’s happened recently is I watched Ricky Gervais’s ‘After Life’ which is as gut-wrenchingly sad as it is brilliant!
Looking at my own mortality.
I am beginning to get signals from my body in the form of pain and restricted movement along with fatigue. This is my 30 something-year-old body telling me it cannot do what it did when it was a 20 something your old body. I play sports and sometimes go to the gym but yet I can’t do this like I could when I was younger. I can’t move like I used to and the muscle pain I experience the next day and subsequent days that follow are a suggestion my muscles now take longer to repair. Yet my experience of these things I rarely talk about and when I do it usually done through humour which is out of my attempt to cover up the brutal truth that we are in effect, to apply a metaphor (perhaps to remove the harsh edges), like a flower, we are born, we grow into a fully flourished flower, and then the petals fall off and then we die.
Why is thinking this way useful?
Sometimes we don’t get to fully flower, or we don’t get to live as long as it takes for all the petals to fall off. Sometimes tragedy strikes, and a freak accident can cut this process short. Sometimes illness or disease gets there before we either fully blossom or before our petals have fallen off. And it is because of this reality I believe holding thinking about our own death and the ultimate death of everything around us can be valuable to our living our lives more fully.
I think if we invite thinking like, what will be the legacy I leave behind? What will my mark of existence be?’ This can offer comfort in the inevitable. When we actively go about making our mark in the world this is called a Mortality Project. This could look like having children or writing a book or trying to do something that nobody has ever done, something to be remembered by.
How do the things we do have a lasting effect?
For me, there is a subtleness of existence that isn’t staring in a film or writing a number 1 hit it is more the attributes and characteristics we might learn from someone and pass these on. An example of this is when I was stroking the face of someone I cared about when she was experiencing the life-changing pain that is a loss. She experienced this stroking as nurturing. I didn’t give it too much thought at the time, but I experienced doing this small nurturing action again with one of my children which got me thinking ‘Where did I learn it?’ I know exactly where I learned it, from one of my parents. You might ask what was so individual about this type of stroking of the face? But there was a clumsiness’ that felt quite unmistakeable like a man learning to be affectionate who has been raised through a generation of thinking which didn’t teach male affection.
So now I wonder will my children caress the faces of their children with this same clumsiness? Can you see how this act has been passed on to me, I have now passed this on to my children and maybe they might pass it on to theirs. This for me is the subtle existential mark we can leave on this earth. Maybe it’s a skill we have passed on to somebody, like a certain way to tie shoelaces or knitting or how to fish. I think people often remember who taught them how to ride a bike. It is things like these that expand what our existence is and can long after we are no longer here.
Another way this connection plays out can be with our pets. If I think about all the little connections I have with mine. I have a dog that if I wink at her, her tail starts wagging excitedly. If I look away her tail stops instantly, the moment I look back at her and wink again, her tail comes back to life wagging frantically! I also have a parrot who dances with me, beatboxes like me and even swears like me!
Thinking about your own impact on the world.
It can be hard for us to establish what our impact is on others and communicating this perhaps in a way that is ‘How will you remember me when I am gone?’ can be hard and difficult to have with loved ones. It is this though, that is the very essence of life, the connection we have with others. So where is this going? for me it’s about;
Making that call to someone you have not spoken to for years,
Telling someone, something you find special and unique about them,
Inviting that someone for dinner and connecting with them,
Making that memory, doing something for someone that they will never forget,
Joke, smile, laugh, be there when someone needs you,
Because one day, a day that could be far in the future or could be tomorrow. When your petals have all fallen off, its these memories that that one day will be all that’s left of you.
An afterthought, how might I be able to help you?
Perhaps you would like to figure out what your impact is on others for yourself before discussing it with your loved ones, or maybe that conversation is too hard to have with them, so you would like to explore it in counselling for yourself. Or maybe you want to ask yourself questions like how you would feel about your life if you knew it was going to end tomorrow. If you would like a non-judgemental safe space to explore this thinking through the vision of a counsellor who has had the experience of this thinking not only for myself but with others that have wanted to explore this further, then please do get in touch by telephone 07903319318 or email email@example.com or alternatively visit my website www.brighter-pathways.co.uk