(35) Cicero Said: “It’s Like This”

According to Cicero, the Roman politician and orator, philosophizing was nothing but preparing for death. During his life (106 – 43 BC) people were concerned in the same way with death as we are today. The old Romans didn’t use blogs, but you can bet that they turned their thoughts into correspondences and writings!

According to Cicero, the Roman politician and orator, philosophizing was nothing but preparing for death. During his life (106 – 43 BC) people were concerned in the same way with death as we are today. The old Romans didn’t use blogs, but you can bet that they turned their thoughts into correspondences and writings!

Cicero treats in Tusculanae disputationes with a stoic bias topics as enduring pain, coping with setbacks and the contempt of death. I have to admit that I didn’t struggle through the book myself. Michel de Montaigne I mentioned in an earlier post, took the trouble in the 16th century. And now I’m reading about this in the beautiful assays by Montaigne. It moves me a bit. The idea that all those great guys from the days of old, when they would have lived in our time they could have been fellow-bloggers on www.jouwrouwverwerking.nl .

Because here we can freely philosophy about death which we know as inevitable, approaching or as an accomplished fact.

My granddaughter of almost four loses step by step her toddler’s carelessness. Since a year or two she has to share her daddy and mommy with a younger sister and soon a third child will be borne who will also hijack attention. She has already experienced a child’s quarrel at the nursery. She’s going to the primary school shortly. She knows by now that grandpas and grandmas are in hospital once in a while. And yes, she also knows that ‘death’ exists.

Fortunately, death is for her pretty abstract. The Ladybug on the window sill is dead, because it doesn’t move anymore. And when the battery of her toy Shakira-microphone is empty, then it broke down.

This week she walked to me in triumph. “Grandma, you know… death… that’s just broken!!!” She had reasoned this for herself. She understood. I couldn’t anything else then agree, she was right. And then came the story. The grandfather of child at the nursery had died and apparently the children had talked about this with each other. Cicero’s theory also applies to four year olds! You cannot start young enough with the preparations for death.

Moments later it sounded cheerful from the play corner in the living room: “Grandma, you will break down later too, huh? And then you’re dead too, huh?” Darn, she was correct again, but did she had to do this so cheerfully?

All of a sudden I had to laugh terrifically. What was this about? Do I feel myself pathetic all of a sudden? Definitely not!!! Didn’t many philosophical views agree that we were on Earth to enjoy, as a preparation to be at peace? My little girl didn’t have no fear for the future or death. And I, who might certainly have this fear, decided not to give a hoot.

The Sun was shining. And the still not broken grandma took her two granddaughters outside to have good fun. First feeding the ducks and then eating ice-creams,

Would the girls maybe, over a really long time, say to each other: “Hey, do you still remember… grandma… grandma who is now broken… that grandma took us to feed the ducks and eating ice-creams! Fun was that, huh? And that is as it should be.

(30) The Widow-Trainee

‘ life = lots of studying and hard work ‘

Mathematics have never been my strongest subject. I’m not a typical bѐta-person. Yet I dare to postulate with any bravado the following theorem: ‘ life = lots of studying and hard work ‘.

It starts with learning how to walk; the process of trial and error that actually never stops. Then there is the growing awareness that you are much more then what you think you are and that you need to learn socializing. And the list goes on and on. When you are lucky and you have the will to do so, then you keep collecting more and more knowledge and skills.

Actually this process of learning and working is progressing in a playful manner. That is to say, that was my experience. I became wife, mother and contributed my share in the workforce and the economy. I appreciated to take my responsibilities. To be on a business trip for the first time, to chair a meeting and to support the execution of an international reorganization. Each phase in my life had its own charm and negative experiences were saved from me. To guide my mother and grandmother during the last years of their life, to provide them with security, to promise that they would experience no pain, to ensure that euthanasia became a discussion topic with their doctors, even that gave (and still gives) me a loving feeling.

But now I have to learn something incredible difficult which I find so hard to do. I have to practice in becoming a widow. The date of the exam has not been established yet, there still seems to be plenty of time to practice. The problem though is, it’s not an exam I want to do. And for certain I do not want to receive a certificate for this. My husband is my teacher in this process. Step by step he urges me to learn and understand how to live without him. Sometimes I seem to stand at the edge of a swimming pool. He pushes me in the deep section. Still with some swimming-supports, but later on without.

How difficult this is I realized for the first time when he was in hospital after a serious operation. Not that I had much time to think. All kind of things had to be arranged in those days filled with visits to the hospital. But during the evening, sitting in that empty living room, was the sense of loss. Even the walls seem to search with large questioning eyes for the energy of my husband. Why was there only one small female sitting on the couch? Weren’t there always two persons curled into each other watching the television?

The house sighed and creaked around me when I was in our big bed during at night, too big and too empty. The stone walls, the wooden floors, the central heating, everything seemed to make noises, a whispering sound: ‘something is wrong here.’ And of course it wasn’t right. Over 42 years we were together. Occasionally separated by business trips, but those didn’t matter. Then we knew that the other was waiting at home, we could survive that. But now the thought pushed itself on to me that we were separated by illness and death.

His time in the hospital is already two years behind us, we live in spare time. Right now I want to do as little as possible for myself. I opt for ‘quality time’ as long as this is possible. And that is granted to us. But my hubby would also like to see that I can find my own way when he is not there anymore. He insists that I take upon things for myself. To set an example he went sailing with friends. Ten days without each other, in order to prepare us for our final exam.

At the moment it is not so certain that that I am the one that has to practice. It could be the case that I am the one that leaves first. So now we are practicing together. A widow-trainee and a widower-trainee. It sounds a bit weird, it is a little bit sad, but at the same time it is a huge testament for our love to each other. We do want to know that the other will succeed after the final exam has been passed. The subject matter is complex, sometimes beyond comprehension. It’s not about not wanting to do this, but it’s about you have to do this. Go ahead and try this, it’s much more difficult then you even can imagine.

Mathematics have never been my strongest subject. I’m not a typical bѐta-person. Yet I dare to postulate with any bravado the following theorem: ‘ life = lots of studying and hard work ‘.

(27) In Good Faith

Two books are close to my heart. If I wasn’t adverse to religion I would have called them my bibles. The books offer their readers a view of life, stripped of frills, and seemed to say to me, “that’s the way to do it, nothing more, nothing less, and let’s keep it simple”. It’s a point of view that wonderfully matches my own motto: “I am who I am and I can’t act differently”.

You probably are wondering now what this topic is about. This post is about the essay’s from Michel De Montaigne, written between 1571 and 1592 (but still very actual today) and a book with the intriguing title “The Grey Writings” by Josep Pla and written between 1918 and 1920.

Both authors share a great ability to observe and put things in perspective without wanting to lecture us.

In his pre-face Michel the Montaigne writes (and I quote): “This book, dear reader, is one of good face. … It is only intended for my friends and relatives: if I slip away (which will soon be the case) they can find something about my nature and my moods in there and can thus keep my memory alive. … I want them to see me in my simplicity, just as I am, casual and unadorned. … Here will be plainly shown, as far as decency permits, both my flaws as well as my natural shape. … So, reader, I form myself the substance of this book; you would be crazy to spend your time on a topic as frivolous and vain. So farewell.” Then a series of thoughts is following in over 1400 (!!) pages.

Josep Pla describes in the form of a diary how he experiences his life in Catalonia. The critic of Le Monde put it in this way: “His universal spirit has nourished itself by the humus of his small village.” And the text of the publisher, on the back cover of the book, I can only agree with: “in this apparently so casually written book, Pla condenses with a superior irony the full and all-pervading greyness of every day’s life. It is a collage of ‘choses vues’…”

Why do I want to share this with you? What has this to do with grief and bereavement? The explanation might shock you.

There have been quite a few times in my life I had to say goodbyes and not only because death separated me from a loved one. Circumstances can also lead to loss, so everybody will probably know a yet living “dead”. Anyway, all these experiences have taught me at a young age that I shouldn’t make things bigger than they really are. As in teaching my three-year-old granddaughter how she can cope with a small loss: “it’s okay, it’s part of the game.” It is what it is.

The sooner we learn that grief and pain are an inseparable part of life, there is nothing else we can do then to breathe deeply and to straighten our back, the better we can deal with life again. Of course in this vision will be room for compassion, to give or receive consolation but, most of all, these will be only ointments for our soul. But what we all, those who are still living, have to prevent at all costs is self-pity, searching for those who are willing to listen to our complaints and – the worst thing that can happen to you – is to keep sticking in the internal groove of being pity.

Science knows it already for a long time: eventually the terrestrial bacteria colony will survive all of us in blissful ignorance of our daily worries.

That’s why it’s not crazy to have a party and to have fun every day. A very small party will do. Act as Pla and Montaigne; observe with a smile, open your eyes and enjoy the first butterfly you see in your garden. Focus on the sunray that tickles along the dark curtain and enters your room and let that warm your day and your heart.

Phew, this post now starting to lecture you something. That’s not its intention. Let me conclude with something that happened to me this morning. I wanted to throw a postcard away that was in my kitchen because of its beautifully colored drawing on the front. Before the card disappeared in the waste bin I looked at it one more time.

It turned out that the drawing contains a small text which I saw for the first time. It said in Dutch “Niet getreurd of somber gedacht, later heb je niet voor niets gewacht” or translated in English “do not be sad or have gloomy thoughts, later you will not have been waiting in vain”. The drawing shows a cat sitting on the kitchen counter and is looking longingly to the big fish that lays on the plate of his owner.

I wish you all a great and lovely spring season!