The Ugliness of Death

July 28, 2006 | 44 comments
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Death is ugly. That fact doesn’t try my faith, but I find death’s ugliness strange.

We are rightfully proud of the attitude people find in our funerals, but at the same time, we often ignore, deny, or even conceal the ugliness of that to which the funeral is a testament, namely the ugliness of death. A funeral celebrates the life of the deceased—of course. It reminds us of the Gospel and its promise. I don’t dispute those things; they are essential to every funeral and central to my faith. In spite of that, it remains true that a funeral reminds us that death is ugly.

Sometimes death comes softly and quietly, like falling asleep. Sometimes we know it is coming and we prepare, writing our testaments and saying our goodbyes. Even then death is ugly, stealing those we love, cutting off all contact for who-knows-how-long. More often, however, death’s thievery is accomplished in an ugly way: disfigurement and pain are its tools, kidnapping without warning its timing. Death earns our hatred.

One kind of Christianity assumes that whatever value this life has it gets from the next. There are many things to say against that belief, but Nietzsche said most of them much better than I, so I will demure. Sometimes, perhaps struck dumb by the absence gaping before us and, therefore, lapsing into a kind of mechanical speech, we say things that sound vaguely like they are part of that kind of Christianity, things I will not repeat because I do not want to embarass either myself or my friends—all of us have said those things. In the face of death, to console the living, all of us have unintentionally denied the value of this life.

The ugliness of death is a testimony against that belief. If life were not valuable in itself, death could not be ugly.

44 Responses to The Ugliness of Death

  1. Nehringk on July 28, 2006 at 8:29 am

    Jim:

    We went through the death of my mother-in-law a couple of months ago. Although it was a trying experience for us all, I cannot say that it was ugly. In some ways, it was a movingly beautiful experience. Death can be ugly, and many deaths are ugly, especially when tragic and pointless, and death is certainly frightening — and relentless — but I am not ready to say that death is ugly and leave it at that.

    I often stop at the grave of our first branch president, a dear sweet man who deeply blessed my life. I was the bishop who buried him. I wonder who will be the bishop to bury me. There is no ugliness to contemplate. Sadness, uncertainty, but no ugliness. Fear and resignation, yes, but sometimes, resolve, and always, deep tenderness of both heart and mind.

    Often now as I work and worship at the temple, I think of it as a form of practice for my own death. That helps make death less frightening, and I do not begin to think of death as ugly. Haunting, yes, but not ugly. Sadly, life can be ugly, too. In the face of all this, we must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, and a perfect brightness of hope.

  2. annegb on July 28, 2006 at 9:02 am

    I agree with you, Jim. I also agree with Nehringk.

    When I lost my first husband and my son, I was a 20 year old alcoholic, low life. They came to me to plan the funeral. I had no brain cells left after the shock. It was a really ugly funeral. I didn’t know about funerals. No music. None. I refused. Why would I want to sing or hear music? One speaker, two prayers. None of his best friends or family participated. I can’t believe they let me get away with that. They had to carry me into the chapel and I just looked at all the people, there were a lot of people and hated the world.

    Now I’m the funeral queen. My own and my current husband’s funeral has been planned for years, musical numbers assigned and sheet music handed out. Talks, prayers, time, all planned. Pall bearers, yep, although this changes as people come in and out of my life. Everybody laughs.

    I told my friend one day, “You know, Tonya, about speaking at my funeral? I changed my mind. I want you to sing.” She said, “no way, I have my talk already written.” I said, with all seriousness, “I’ve changed, you could say some good things about me now.” Everybody laughed.

    I will never get over what I did with the funeral of my family.

    And I can’t wait to be a fly on the wall at my own.

  3. BrianJ on July 28, 2006 at 9:55 am

    JimF: “…perhaps struck dumb by the absence gaping before us…we say things that sound vaguely like they are part of that kind of Christianity….â€?

    Thank you for putting into rational thoughts the gut feelings I have lately. My friends just lost their baby, and as much as I wanted to say something to “cheer them up,â€? I couldn’t find anything that sounded real–as if the promises of the future aren’t really meant to erase the pains of today. I told them I was sad and that I loved them—what more could I say?

  4. Adam Greenwood on July 28, 2006 at 10:24 am

    I think Jim has it. Honey can be found in the body of an ass, but the ass is still an ass. If death itself were beautiful–and not people’s Christian acceptance of their misfortune and Christian faith in a better world–Christ would have no need to conquer it. All good things come from Christ. Death does not come from Christ.

  5. MikeInWeHo on July 28, 2006 at 10:46 am

    re: 2 So sorry about your very tragic loss early in life, annegb, but thanks for sharing so much with us. And hopefully you won’t be reincarnated as a fly. That would require some serious theological revision…. : )

    re: 3 That sounds like the perfect thing to say. “Cheer up” comments (even gospel-based) to people in such pain can be very invalidating and actually make the grieving person feel worse. They’re in agony and now they feel guilty too because the unintended implication is that their testimony must be weak somehow.

  6. Lamonte on July 28, 2006 at 10:54 am

    “Death does not come from Christ” It sounds right to say such a thing but isn’t death part of the plan of salvation? Without death we would be stranded in this life forever without the opportunity to experience greater things.

    We attended a memorial for a friend in the ward this week. She was middle aged and died of a massive stroke over the weekend. It was simple and straight forward. This woman was odd in some ways – her dress and appearance, her general demeanor. And some people felt uncomforatble around her. But at the memorial her husband spoke and her two oldest children – sons who are both married. Her 11-year old daughter sang “Families Can be Together Forever.” The speakers all did a wonderful job and they painted a picture of a woman that many of us didn’t know – because we sometimes couldn’t get past her outward appearance. In this case death gave us a chance to see something beautiful that we couldn’t see before – because of our own weakness.

  7. Seth R. on July 28, 2006 at 11:17 am

    I guess I disagree Jim.

    I don’t find death any more ugly than life.

    What’s so uplifting about day-to-day life anyway?

    Wake up in the morning with smelly breath, scratch hindquarters, small burp, then off to the toilet we go…

    The only difference between death and life is that life is a commonplace thing that we deal with every day. Therefore we don’t really notice all the degrading necessities and details of it.

    Death is a singular and novel event when all the decay and dying you’ve been doing every single day of your life are suddenly brought to your attention. Therefore, we recoil at it.

    But I see nothing inherently more repulsive in death than I see in the day to day lives of even the most healthy and prosperous of us.

    It all depends on what you choose to focus your attention on.

  8. XON on July 28, 2006 at 11:31 am

    As usual, beautiful comments from Jim F. Reading it, I began to form the opinion that, perhaps, it is a question of cultural aesthetics. We see death as ugly because we, as a people or race, have a great deal of our cultural emphasis on this life. (Which is daily magnified by the growth of western materialism.)

    Without getting much deeper than this superficial observation, other cultures didn’t view death as such a tragedy. I wonder if they would consider it ugly in the way that Jim has drawn it?

    (Not that I’m some big fan of death. . .)

  9. Keryn on July 28, 2006 at 11:53 am

    I think I agree that parts of death are ugly. My father passed away on Memorial Day after a year long battle with cancer. He was only 55, and he and my mother had so many things planned–missions, service, vacations–for after retirement. I’m angry at that loss–angry for my mother and angry for me and my family. That part of death is so ugly sometimes it takes my breath away. Likewise my father’s suffering before the end. And the suffering of my mother and sister, taking care of him.

    And yet. There were parts that were so beautiful I can scarely believe they were associated with the ugliness. I wasn’t there when my father died, but my sister described a beautiful, spiritual passing. Those moments when I was able to serve him by reading to him, when he kissed my children for the last time, when he gathered all his children to bear his testimony…so not everything associated with death is ugly. Perhaps death is like a photo negative of life–mostly sad, but with parts of beauty, where life is mostly beautiful, with parts of sadness.

  10. Michael McBride on July 28, 2006 at 12:09 pm

    I haven’t experienced the death of a very close family member, only more removed ones. But the death of one of our dogs a couple years ago was both very ugly and a good thing. She was sick and in pain and had just been through a traumatic surgery that couldn’t prevent other problems from arising. When the vet put her to sleep, she didn’t die immediately and acted very much in pain. (We wonder if the vet messed up.) It was an ugly affair. Yet, she had a number of degenerative conditions, and by putting her to sleep we prevented her from having to endure a painful last weeks of life.

  11. Sue on July 28, 2006 at 12:18 pm

    I’ve never thought of death as beautiful. Necessary, yes. Beautiful, no. Death brings pain, loneliness, parting, sadness. Death marks the beginning of the time that you must start missing someone – for who knows how long. It’s a stretch to call it beautiful, I think.

    I don’t think any of the “cheer up” platitudes/truths we have make the reality of death any less painful and miserable for the living. When people said things like that to me after my dad died, I wanted to slap them.

  12. DKL on July 28, 2006 at 12:22 pm

    It’s odd to hear death described as something apart from life, almost as though it were like a car accident–as though the notion of a world populated by breeding immortals would hold any resemblance to our own (no health insurance, no workmans comp, no medical malpractice, no personal injury lawyers–strange indeed!). I disagree that talking about the ugliness of death underscores the value of life. The ugliness of death, insofar as it is ugly, is part of the ugliness of life. Life is a mixed bag–one that cannot be defined apart from its time horizon.

    In times of war, the ugliness of death is often the primary motivating factor–that combined with a healthy sense of “better you than me” or even (in the case of our allies) “better you than them.”

    Furthermore, some deaths should be earnestly desired by anyone with a profound moral sense. Did anyone here cry for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi?

    On a side note, reading your post reminds me of something Bertrand Russell said when he was about 70: “I am not young, and I love life. But I should scorn to shiver with terror at the thought of annihilation.”

  13. DKL on July 28, 2006 at 12:28 pm

    There was a Twilight Zone episode starring a young Robert Redford as a cop investigating a murder that occurred outside the apartment of an old woman who hasn’t let any visitors into her apartment in many years in order prevent Death from showing up and taking her away. The old woman witnessed the murder through the peephole in her front door, and she lets Robert Redford into her apartment to talk about what she saw. He’s a charming young man, and she takes an instant liking to him. By the end of the episode, he tells her that he is Death and that he’s come for her. “See, you had nothing to be afraid of” he says (or something to that effect). Not profound in any real sense, but it was a great episode of the Twilight Zone.

  14. smb on July 28, 2006 at 12:45 pm

    You might consider Inventing the American Way of Death, 1830-1920 by James Farrell if you’re interested in the historic setting in which Americans isolated death for its ugliness, leaving us in the situation JF describes. There are other visions of death, though. For some Puritans death was the moment that mattered–it was the ultimate test of one’s external evidence of chosenness, and faltering on the deathbed could be devastating while maintaining the stiff upper lip could betoken some hope of salvation. Devils were present certainly, but so were angels. Death was also the antidote to worldly materialism, and good American Protestants were urged to attend as many deathbeds as they could in hopes of remembering that life here is a temporary illusion. joseph smith echoed such sentiments at different points. having seen more death than most (though less than many), I have come to see death as variable, just as most life experiences are. I have observed tender, quiet leave-takings and deaths that finally represent relief from a horrifying ailment. I have also observed deaths that seemed so perverse and painful that I could not make my throat form words. Death was not called the “King of Terrors” for nothing, but death has many visages. The more I study them, the more tenderly I feel toward the death culture of our ancestors, before what has been called “The Dying of Death” in America’s 19th century.

  15. BrianJ on July 28, 2006 at 12:46 pm

    Well, if Robert Redford is Death, then it is beautiful.

    Did anyone here cry for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi?

    What is uglier: the end of a life that many will miss or a death that many will welcome? No, I didn’t cry for al-Zarqawi’s death; I cried for his life, such as it was. And I cried for all of us that such things are necessary/welcomed.

  16. Rosalynde Welch on July 28, 2006 at 1:17 pm

    Death was ugly when it visited us. But the dead—well, the dead can be inexpressibly beautiful. Why are children most exquisite in sleep, wrapped in death’s second self? (Maybe, I’ve recently thought, it’s a mother’s unthinkable hostility toward her children, who demand from her person, constantly, more than she can ever supply.)

    But then there was an absolutely rending piece in the New Yorker recently about a stillbirth; the father describes the dead infant’s face, which was deformed from the trauma of the passage without the pressure of circulating blood to maintain color and form.

  17. DKL on July 28, 2006 at 1:17 pm

    Adam: Death does not come from Christ.

    This strikes me as wrong. Death comes from the Plan of Salvation, which comes from Christ.

    Moreover, when you say that Christ conquered death, he didn’t conquer it in the sense that he made death unnecessary. People have lived and died in the ensuing millennia just as they died in the millennia preceding Christ’s resurrection. The sense in which Christ can be said to have conquered death was that he made it a condition that will be reversed at some future point.

  18. D. Fletcher on July 28, 2006 at 1:21 pm

    I think I agree that death can be ugly, but I think that ugliness/pain is necessary, even “natural.” The pain caused by disease is relieved by death. The ugliness of someone in the final stages of life helps the beloved survivors to let go. Death brings the traumatic and ugly episode of disease to an end, and could even be seen as upbeat, in this way.

    The worst kinds of death are the instant tragedies, the teenagers killed in car crashes, or children who die in terrible accidents. The families have nothing to hang onto, and often experience the death of their loved one as a kind of trauma themselves.

  19. Doc on July 28, 2006 at 1:37 pm

    I agree with some of the allusions earlier that our fear of death is largely cultural and has been created by the way we isolate it from every day experience. I had the opportunity of being a hospice volunteer prior to being accepted into medical school and I have to say it was truly, truly and mind openning experience.

    Now, as a doctor, I have been around more death in the past 4 or 5 years than the previous 25 multiplied ad infinitum. Yes, it is hard, painful, depressing. Yes, I still grieve for each patient and fear the day if ever that should leave me. But I have seen so much suffering inflicted upon people by the medical system to postpone the inevetible demise, that at times death is truly a relief. I also have known families where the experience has truly been a spiritual one that moved them closer to God. My Great-Grandmother’s death at age 100 was like this. The number one cause of death is life itself. I think we as a culture could be healthier to learn to see death more as a natural stage of life.

    Please understand, I am not saying death is or should be easy for families or loved ones or even for most individuals. Grief, pain, heartache are also absolutely natural and necessary. Just that like any other trial death can truly draw us nearer to God. Unlike any other trial, it spiritually removes to some place nearer to God, bringing our journey through the Plan of Salvation that much farther.

  20. Wacky Hermit on July 28, 2006 at 1:54 pm

    The ugliest thing about death, in my opinion, is when it emphasizes the ugly in those who remain alive. When my father-in-law died, my mother-in-law acted like herself, only more so. She ordered my husband, her only son, to videotape the funeral (despite having already asked him to give the eulogy). She was furious when he arrived at the rosary (after having cried on my shoulder for quite some time) without the camera and made him go back to the house (missing his father’s services) to fetch it. Her choice in expression of her grief brought out all that was ugly in her relationship with her son– the manipulation, the selfish servitude, the perfectionism.

    When my mother-in-law’s father died, my mother-in-law made none of those demands. Of course, she didn’t care much for him, since he’d abandoned the family early on, and neither did his other two daughters. One of the other two daughters even wailed at the reception after the funeral. We thought she was wailing from grief, but later someone translated for us and told us that she was wailing because she had just discovered that she didn’t inherit any land from him.

    Another, that doesn’t involve inlaws: when my grandmother died, my grandfather (who has always been selfish) had her cremated. This was a big deal to my Jewish relatives, who under Jewish law were now not permitted to mourn her properly. We ended up holding a memorial service for her at my aunt’s house. Naturally, he did not attend.

    These were all expected deaths from old age, so there was none of “his poor life was cut short”. The ugliest thing about all of them was seeing the hideousness spiral in first to fill the void they had left.

  21. Matt Thurston on July 28, 2006 at 8:00 pm

    You know how there’s that statistic that men suppossedly think of sex once every seven seconds, or every minute, or something like that? Maybe it’s an urban legend. In any case, I have no idea how such a thing could be calculated or proven. It’s a lame statistic.

    Still, such a statistic makes me wonder how often I think of any subject. “Death” is a great example. It feels like I think about death ALL THE TIME, and I wonder if its normal. So what is “all the time”. I don’t know, every day for sure. And probably more like a dozen times a day to be more precise. I don’t think morbid thoughts, or dwell upon the subject at any great length, but I’m constantly reminded of my own mortality, of the “temporariness” (yes, its a word) of my everything, especially my life. Mostly I just think, “Man, Death sucks!”

    Anyone else?

  22. pjj on July 28, 2006 at 10:23 pm

    Matt, I think that you are probably out of the norm, thinking about death that much. I do a lot of genealogy, for myself, and others, and I think that I’m probably kind of beyond the norm on how much I think about stuff related to death– but I don’t think I am constantly thinking of my own mortality. It might be that I have just gotten to a point where I’ve totally accepted it. I do think that I’ve become much more comfortable with the idea of death, partly from age, partly from dealing with so many (often interesting) death records.

  23. Seth R. on July 28, 2006 at 10:24 pm

    I’d say urban legend.

    At least, I know I don’t think about it that often. You?

  24. slm on July 29, 2006 at 12:01 am

    Matt,

    I do think about death every day, but probably not a dozen times — unless a loved one or I is traveling or doing something else potentially hazardous. I sometimes wonder, though, if that may be unhealthy.

    I also think about sex everyday. But I’m not too worried about that one. (And I’m a woman).

  25. Blain on July 29, 2006 at 12:04 am

    My mother died 9 July — a day after the anniversary of her marriage to my father (and, 24 years later, their sealing in the temple), and a day before my daughter’s birthday. I was in the room with her at the time, and had been for most of the last three days she was alive.

    Dead wasn’t ugly at all. Dying wasn’t a whole lot of fun, but it wasn’t as bad as you might think. One of her last messages with words was “dead looks good.”

    Dead is painful. It hurts a lot, in a million little ways, to not have her around to call any day I want and tell her about something or ask her about something or just chat.

    But it’s not ugly — it’s the thing that gives life its significance. Go read OSC’s Mortal Gods and you might get the idea. Death is the price of mortality, and we came here to have a mortal experience.

    I guess ugly is in the eye of the beholder. To paraphrase Lindsey Brigman, I would suggest you look with better eyes than that.

  26. Mark Butler on July 29, 2006 at 12:22 am

    The only thing beautiful about death is as I like to say, dead people are not dead.

  27. mullingandmusing (m&m) on July 29, 2006 at 1:13 am

    Death does not come from Christ.

    Isn’t death part of the opposition that makes us need Christ? Without death, there would be no atonement. Now THAT would be ugly. Mortality ain’t pretty, either (there are some of us who struggle with health problems who sometimes think death would be a whole lot better than dealing with day-to-day s-t-r-u-g-g-l-e (not that I want to die, but on some days, it has its alluring elements)…all these things just make me that much more grateful for the Atonement. The Atonement really does take some of the sting of death, but love keeps that sting from completely going away.

    When Grandma died, Uncle G. gave a talk about how the only way to take the pain out of death is to take the love out of life. If death feels ugly, perhaps that is just a sign of the depth of love one has experienced. So, right before Grandpa died, after I had seen him for what I knew was the last time, I sat in my car and sobbed. Aunt A. came out and tried to console me with the “we’ll see him again” stuff, but I would have none of that. I wanted the pain, because I loved him that much.

    I still cry because I miss them. And I know that pain isn’t anything like losing someone super close. (I’m still stinging from hearing about the death of the husband of someone I knew in high school…he was 34, died while doing a triathalon, left wife with four children plus one on the way…that’s hard stuff.) But still, I don’t think of death as an ugly thing, just a painful (yes, painful) yet temporary thing, a part of God’s plan. And, to me, it’s a reminder that this life is *so* not what we will have to settle for. It is a reminder of much better things to come. (Sometimes it’s a reminder, however, that really requires some effort from me to see it through eyes that help it not just make me mad, especially when death doesn’t make sense, like the example below…or when children die, esp. with suffering.) It’s yet something else to help bring our souls to Christ. Without Him, death is ugly, but with Him, I just can’t call it that.

  28. greenfrog on July 29, 2006 at 1:30 am

    As I understood Jim F’s point, it was not that certain deaths might not be ugly, but that the ugliness of death is a reflection of the value of even life limited by mortality.

  29. Matt Thurston on July 29, 2006 at 2:40 am

    Yeah, my pretty constant thoughts re death are probably a little outside the norm. I haven’t been this way my whole life, but my thoughts re death have definitely increased over the last year or two. This is no doubt in part due to my evolving world view. And like “pjj”, I spend my free time doing things that probably make me think about death a little more than others: reading, usually history, biography, or meaning-of-life related books, all of which have a way of condensing life to the bare essentials.

    I’ve dwelt upon the subject even more in the last month as my 95 year old grandfather passed away a few weeks ago. Ironically, my wife and I just finished the last episode of the last season (season 5) of Six Feet Under on DVD tonight. Now there’s a show that will get you thinking about death.

  30. Robert C. on July 29, 2006 at 10:43 am

    BrianJ #3: I think sometimes we seek platitudinous cheer-up phrases to avoid our responsibility—which is well attested to in scripture—to “mourn with those who mourn,” a phrase whose very existence presupposes that mourning is a very real and inevitable part of life that we should meet head on rather than trying to deny or avoid….

  31. BrianJ on July 29, 2006 at 12:57 pm

    Robert C: thanks for the response. It is always helpful to know what the scriptures have to say. Your comment and Jim F’s original post have evoked more thought–and thoughtfulness–in me than you may have anticipated.

  32. Jim F. on July 29, 2006 at 5:35 pm

    greenfrog, thanks.

  33. MikeInWeHo on July 29, 2006 at 10:06 pm

    re: 21 Maybe you are depressed, Matt. Seriously, preoccupation with death is a red-flag for depression. Here’s a nice little online depression screening tool from NYU Medical School:

    http://www.med.nyu.edu/psych/screens/depres.html

  34. Jim F. on July 30, 2006 at 12:19 am

    MikeInWeHo, thanks for making the recommendation that one of us should have made earlier — Matt, you may need professional help.

  35. Kathy J on July 30, 2006 at 1:33 am

    What a beautiful post Jim, Although it has distracted me from preparing my Sunday school lesson for tomorrow. I think an important distinction can be drawn between death being ugly, and death being evil. Death is indisputably ugly–I mean, the very physical aspects of it, what with the decay and the odors and all those things that in our modern and tidy society keep the funeral homes in business.

    Lots of things are, however, ugly. Having given birth to five children, let me tell you about birth! Now that’s ugly, painful, and very, very messy. It is also beautiful. It seems these transitions to and from mortality are not pretty, clean, and comfortable. Perhaps that is because they are so profoundly important and must be, therefore, traumatic.

    I recognize that you were not referring to asthetics in your original post however, and readily agree with your premise that the pain at death underscores the joy and value of life, and that well meant platitudes can diminish that worth. Reminds me of the Dylan Thomas poem, “Do not go gentle into that good night.”

    I guess my point is that I don’t think you ever intended to say death was evil, not part of the plan, or even “bad” in a moral sense, which seems to be what some people take umbridge with, but that it was ugly, painful, “a bummer,” etc. and that we don’t need to deny that, or rush through it, to have faith in Christ or the plan of salvation, etc. Thanks for making that point so clearly and beautifully.

  36. Robert C. on July 30, 2006 at 9:09 am

    Matt #21: I have a certain fascination with death (e.g. I loved Harold and Maude) and, although I’m sure some professional counseling would do me a lot of good, I find a lot of catharsis in reading about death in works like Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich (there’s an excellent discussion of this book and other philsophical and literary works on death in William Barrett’s very interesting Irrational Man: A Study in Existential Philosophy).

  37. annegb on July 30, 2006 at 10:27 am

    Kathy, I loved your post. I’ve thought about dying as sometimes imitating birth, in that people labor to die. Not always. But the very sick, or the aged, there is work in it.

  38. DKL on July 30, 2006 at 1:54 pm

    Woody Allen’s movie “Annie Hall” has some interesting things to say about how people think about death. Allen’s character has an existential fascination with death. It’s all so refined, and he takes it as a sign of his sophistication that he only recommended books to Annie that had the word “death” in the title. When she scoffs at him for this, he replies, “It’s an important issue.”

    When Allen visits Annie’s family, her brother Duane (played by Christopher Welken in one of his finest roles–he really steals the scene) gets Allen alone in a room and says:

    Can I confess something? I tell you this as an artist, I think you’ll understand. Sometimes when I’m driving… on the road at night… I see two headlights coming toward me. Fast. I have this sudden impulse to turn the wheel quickly, head-on into the oncoming car. I can anticipate the explosion. The sound of shattering glass. The… flames rising out of the flowing gasoline.

    To which Allen responds: “Right. Well, I have to – I have to go now, Duane, because I, I’m due back on the planet Earth.” Just then, Annie’s mother asks Duane to give Allen a ride back to the airport. Next scene: Woody Allen sitting petrified in a little Porshe that Christopher Welken is driving at night–watching the oncoming traffic with trepidation. It’s quite funny.

    Duane is really fixated on death. His is no mere book fascination, and it’s too much for Allen’s death dilettante to handle. For all his literary interest in death, Allen’s clearly not ready to go.

    There’s a certain tidy abstractness involved in talking and thinking about death that Allen captures (and pokes fun at) beautifully. I wonder if there’s not a little bit of Christopher Welken’s Duane inside of many of us, but we realize that there’s really no point in talking about it. And socially, we’d prefer to remain back on “planet earth.”

  39. scott bronson on July 31, 2006 at 2:04 pm

    Death is the event that we spend every moment of our lives preparing for.

  40. Matt Thurston on August 1, 2006 at 2:58 pm

    Thanks MikeInWeHo (#33) but I don’t think I’m depressed. I am actually quite content and happy. Its quite simple: I just think about “death” a lot and don’t want to die. I might have some minor anxiety about the issue, but I’m not depressed, I’m sure of that.

    Funny DKL (#38) should mention Woody Allen as I thought about him each time I posted on my thoughts re death. I’m a big Woody Allen fan actually, and death is one the subjects he is fixated on, in addition to love, sex, psychoanalysis, art, and God. The scene from Annie Hall DKL quotes is a classic. I’m clearly more of “Alvy” than “Duane” in the way I think about and approach death.

    But all of Allen’s movies have interesting things to say about death. Crimes and Misdemeanors being one of them. (I’m thinking of the minor Psychologist character than the Woody Allen character is interested in using as a documentary subject.)

    When Harry Met Sally is basically a Woody Allen rip-off movie and Billy Crystal’s Harry Burns character (the Woody Allen character) proudly proclaims his dark side to Sally during their car ride back east:

    Harry: Do you ever think about death?
    Sally: Yes.
    Harry: Sure you do. A fleeting thought that drifts in and out of the transom of your mind. I spend hours, I spend days…
    Sally: – and you think this makes you a better person?
    Harry: Look, when the s–t comes down, I’m gonna be prepared and you’re not, that’s all I’m saying.
    Sally: And in the meantime, you’re gonna ruin your whole life waiting for it.

  41. Matt Thurston on August 1, 2006 at 3:12 pm

    I just noticed Jim F.’s comment in #34. Its interesting what gets lost (or misinterpreted) in the translation when you don’t know the person making the comments, let alone not seeing or hearing the person making the comments. I can clearly see where my comments in #21 and #29 would be taken as a potential red flag for depression, but this just isn’t the case. Again, I appreciate the concern. My wife is amused by the suggestion though, and will no doubt take the opportunity to suggest I get psychological help anytime I say anything remotely “dark”.

  42. Sasha on August 2, 2006 at 6:55 pm

    New blogger here.
    Death, in my opinion, is not ugly. It is the second most beautiful thing, first being life. Ironically, it is life that bring us suffering, pain, and sorrows of all kinds. In the light of the gospel, I understand the reasons for these afflictions. That is why I am still pressing forward. The scriptures teach that the sting of death is sin (which is done while in this life) but that the righteous are “received into a state of happiness, which is called paradise, a state of rest, a state of peace, where they shall rest from all their troubles and from all care, and sorrow”. So, if we wish to for our death to be sweet, rather than ugly, we need to repent and endure to the end, while still experiencing the trials of mortality.

    Perhaps, the ugliness of death IS in the sorrows preceeding one’s passing, such as emotional, physical, and spiritual anguish. Those who face extreme suffering in a terminal illness may call upon the Lord for comfort or relief from pain, and rely upon him to prolong or shorten their days upon the earth. While experiencing uncertainty and concern, a Latter-day saint can find hope in the plan of salvation and the Lord’s promise that “those that die in me shall not taste of death, for it shall be sweet unto them” (D&C 42:46).

    I do not want to die, nor do I feel ready. However, I am perfectly content and, in fact, in a way, look forward to death as the beginning of LIFE.

  43. Nathan on August 2, 2006 at 8:52 pm

    Last night, a ten year old girl from my ward was killed by her father. That sucks.

    But, for her, which sounds like abuse was a daily dose, death was a much more beautiful way of life than life was. That sucks.

    Sucks=Anger, helplessness, frustration, that any young person (or person, for that matter) should have to go through that.

  44. Jim F. on August 2, 2006 at 11:59 pm

    Nathan, hearing the story on the news tonight made me ill. This case and the Destiny Norton case last week remind us just how deeply we need to mourn with those who mourn.