Can a Fable Help Us Prepare for Death?

They used to say that only two things were certain: death and taxes. Well it seems that quite a few people, possibly including the POTUS, have found a way to avoid the latter. But we haven’t yet figured out how to dodge the first. She’s coming for all of us.

Herewith a fable-ic rumination on her ETA.

Death doesn’t surprise the wise; they are always ready to leave. The wise have been prepared since the time when we all must resolve ourselves to accept death’s arrival; which time, alas, embraces all times, whether days, or hours, or a moment. Nobody does not understand — when it comes to the final tribunal, we are all summoned. Even for the king’s children, the first instant they open their eyes to the light of the world is sometimes the same instant in which they close their eyelids forever.

Defend yourself with greatness; align yourself with beauty, virtue, youth. Death ravishes all without a backward glance. One day the whole world will belong to her. There is nothing less ignored, and, because I have to say it, nothing for which we are less prepared.

A Dying Man, who was more than 100 years old, complained to Death that she had arrived in haste. She wanted him to leave so soon and he hadn’t had a chance to make his will. She hadn’t even called ahead to let him know.

Is it right that I should die without warning? He asked. Wait a bit. My wife doesn’t want me to leave without her. I need to make a little bequest to my great-nephew. And my house needs an addition. Cruel goddess, you are in such a rush.

Old man, Death said to him, My coming cannot possibly be a surprise. You are complaining about my impatience for no reason. Come on! Aren’t you 100 years old? Find me in Paris two mortals as old. Find me ten in all of France. I should, you say, have given you notice, so that you could better prepare. Then I would have found you with your will in perfect order, your grandson taken care of and your house in mint condition. Don’t you think you had enough warning when just walking and moving, when your spirits and senses were all beginning to fail? No taste, no joy, everything for you is already crumbling. For you, meeting the sunrise alone takes enormous effort. You regret the pleasures of life that you don’t even enjoy anymore. I showed you your friends — dead, dying or sick. Was that not warning enough? Come on, old man, no more arguments, the State doesn’t care if you make your will.

Death was right. I wanted, at this age, to depart life with a banquet, thanking my host, packing my bags; after all, how long can one delay the voyage?

You’re muttering, old man! See the young who are dying. Watch them march, watch them run toward deaths that are, it’s true, glorious and beautiful, but also certain and sometimes cruel. How loud do I have to say it? — my zeal may be excessive: The closer a person already is to death, the greater their regret.

I see my father. Dying. Of a cancer that had already taken almost everything from him. He hardly ate, took miniscule sips of his adored cappuccinos. He was a skeleton, unable to walk. As his consciousness deteriorated, his desire to fix the wrongs of the world accelerated. If Death would just leave him alone, he could continue to send incomprehensible mass emails in all-caps with solutions to any number of systemic ills. He had a fix that would avert the local orchestra’s inevitable and imminent bankruptcy. He could call the refinisher for his office floor, which needed sanding and staining, a coat of varnish (satin or glossy?). His will, to be sure, was all in order. But there was still the matter of university for one of his grandsons that he needed to arrange.

I can see him, The Dying Man, negotiating with Death when we were all asleep. Give me just another minute. He developed the idea that the buttons on his camera controlled everything and if he just found the right one, the lights would go on and off, the oven would heat and the stereo would cue up his favourite marching band. And if he just found the right one, he could pause Death.

But she took him. And the orchestra went bankrupt and the musicians found new ways to offer their music to the community. All the floors in the house were re-done after his death, to woo the eventual buyer. And, a couple of years later, his grandson went to university.

Have I learned from reading this fable or watching my father? I am negotiating with Death every day. I used to hold my breath when I passed a cemetery because someone told me it prolonged one’s life by a second each time the devotion was performed. Then I stopped. I wanted bigger bang for my buck. With every run, every yoga class, every organic piece of broccoli, green tea, glass of water, every hour of sleep — I enact my version of a healthy life. Yes, to enjoy life to its fullest, but also to put off Death an extra day, hour or moment. I’ve meditated on the subject of her imminent arrival, a practice that is supposed to prepare me. Yet still I try to outpace her, at least for a little while longer.

In the meantime, a recent oddity I read got me thinking of what I wanted to do with myself after I died, a variation on such questions as: If you were an animal (or flower or food) what would you be? — because apparently there’s a company now that will make your cremated ashes into pottery. If I could come back as a piece of ceramic, what would I want to be? A candleholder feels too cliché. A butter dish too mundane. Perhaps a tiny, artful espresso cup.

And if I haven’t decided on my ceramic incarnation when Death comes, I’ll negotiate with her for a little more time to settle on my choice.

What are these Fableogs?


Originally published at on October 27, 2017.

Tagged in Death, Fable, Jean De La Fontaine, Cremation, Fathers Death

By Mina Samuels on October 27, 2017.

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Exported from Medium on March 17, 2018.



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