Another Friend’s Death: Mortality in Daily Life


We #Buddhists contemplate, study, meditate on and live with #impermanence more than non-Buddhists, for the most part. We do not, therefore, feel as much surprise, shock, dismay, or indignation when relationships end, jobs evaporate, housing changes, animals and people die: that is the nature of impermanence, which we all live with every day. Mortality in daily life is commonplace.

However, that doesn’t mean we do not mourn. We feel sad, we grieve, we suffer personal or professional losses, same as anyone. We’re just not surprised. We don’t ask “why me?” or “why her?”

I lost another long-time friend, Cynthia Toth, a former housemate who is a Buddhist vajra sister this week. I say “another” because she is not the first and she will not be the last. But, she is my age. Somehow, when someone dies who is a peer, it feels “closer to home” in every way. Also, we had lived together in a Buddhist community household for almost a year, which literally brings this loss closer to my own home.

Cyn had been suffering from the aftereffects of ovarian cancer for several years and it actually surprised me that she lived as long as she did. Most with that diagnosis do not survive that long nor live as well as she did for the years they do have left. I admire Cynthia’s courage, applaud her support network and health care providers, and am glad she had that “extra” time because I know she used it well, in service and kindness to others.

This post is not an obituary for her (I am not qualified nor moved to write one), nor even an homage. More, I want to recognize our commonality: everyone dies. One way or another, “early” or after a long life, we all leave our physical bodies.

I have come close to death many times, due to accidents, illness and surgeries. At some point, that closeness will veer over the line into actuality and I, too, will die. Since I am almost 60, no one can say that I would have died “young,” regardless of when I die from now on. But, the older one gets, the “younger” every decade seems or sounds.

When we’re teenagers, being in one’s twenties seems “old” and anyone over forty seems “elderly.” Once in our twenties, we revise that to include people in their forties seeming “middle-aged” and those over sixty seeming “elderly.”

Now, sometimes people in their eighties don’t seem so old to me; dying in one’s nineties can seem “too soon” in some cases. When is anyone “ready” to die if they’re not in pain, not suffering, not alone? Even those who do suffer hang on, as if death were a consequence to be avoided.

The language we use to talk about one’s journey to death is so inappropriate, from my perspective: people talk about the dead person having “lost the battle” when death comes from cancer or other illness; many say a person has been “robbed” or had a life that has been “cut short” when the person was murdered or died from an accident. Even when someone dies of “old age” many talk about how we “lost them too soon,” as if remaining alive well into one’s 90s means we’re “found.” People talk about “cheating death,” “escaping death,” and mortality rates.

My favorite is the epidemiologist who tells us that the incidence of death has increased or decreased due to lifestyle or medicinal interventions or changes, ignoring the fact that everyone dies, which makes the incidence of death 100%, for everyone.

I am not hard-hearted: I cried when I learned of Cynthia’s death….and Russell’s and Jaye’s and Joan’s and Mary’s and Bob’s and Susan’s and Martha’s and Rinpoche’s and my father’s and my grandparents’ and Marcia’s and and and and so many others. I miss them. I wish some of them hadn’t died “so soon,” but I know some of them were suffering, which made their deaths a relief.

I cry, but I am not shocked or surprised. I celebrate their lives and am glad to have known them.

Thank you, Cynthia, for being in my life for a few years and all the ways you were of benefit to so many. I wish you well in your journey to your next incarnation. Maybe we’ll get together again some time.

Thanks, Candace Palmo, for posting this photo of Cynthia from your travels last year. Cynthia is on the left.

Cynthia and Candy 2012

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