on death

Important: this post contains a paragraph touching suicidal behaviour. Don’t read this if you want to feel safe. Overall this is a dark post with strange black humour.


My mother died when she was nearly 51. Now nearing that age when she last roamed the earth, I often wonder whether I will live longer than 51, or not. It is a strange thing to compare yourself to those who died before they were your age. Some expected it to happen, like my mother after having been ill for 2 years, but the majority of friends who died before my present age, did not see it coming, except in those last seconds.

Dying itself is easy. It is the road to death that often is difficult. The road to death is always life.

Sometimes death is preceded by suffering. Life and suffering, we cannot separate one from the other. The road to death is always life.

on a personal level

I came close, a couple of times this month – no more air / larynx blocked – and I know that this death would be like a candle losing its fire. Easy. Brain shuts down first when the oxygen gets low.

Unconscious when the heart stops beating. Within a couple of minutes, tissue starts dying. Usually brain tissue.

But first there is a short panic when you have stopped breathing, and no more air can get in. That panic is harder than whatever you feel on a physical level. But the second time that panic is no more. You just try to relax to get some air in. That has always worked, otherwise I wouldn’t write this, panic is counterproductive. If relaxing doesn’t work, a matter of seconds and you will lose consciousness. Perhaps there’s someone around to do CPR. To me Friday evening has been the most dangerous moment of the week.

There is also the possibility of a stroke. I warned my family. I have been coughing my brains out, literally. Blood pressure rising to killer levels when that suddenly happens. Blood vessels in the left eye have already given up. They know what to do and who to call when I might seem unbalanced or disoriented, or strange speech …


‘Consciousness’ loses vision, like a hexagon zooming out, creating a radiating but fragmentary view. Sometimes you see your body shaking from a different vantage point. You think, I have to get in that body again.  Who is doing that thinking? Is it thinking? This is the brink of unconsciousness. This is what happens when the coughing is under control, but lasting too long, depriving the brain temporarily of oxygen. It’s not really dangerous.

This is dangerous: When I almost died in my sleep, 3 weeks ago, the ‘interrupt‘ tried decisively to wake me up. I was dreaming the strangest thing, about a dog with the head of Eddy Murphy, where Eddy is barking ‘wake up now’. Then I woke up from very deep deep down. And I realized that there was no more time to lose. I gasped for air. How long had I not been breathing? Must have been minutes.


February 2005: I walked on the road, coming from work, with something resembling a pneumonia, but under treatment and not contagious. Doctor had proposed 3 scenarios: hospital, home, work. I chose work: there is more peace there than at home or in a hospital, and I promised to listen to my body. But at a given moment I felt that I was using more oxygen than I was breathing in. So I realized that, and stopped my walk and waited a bit. Better to go and sit down so nobody would see me drop dead or worse.

April 2013: I start coughing like crazy while in the car. I know that this paroxysmal cough is capable of taking my consciousness for seconds. I now drive 130 on the freeway. Will I keep a straight line while unconscious? Better go for the break and move right as soon as possible. Then nothing happens.

past conditional

Sometimes the moment looks right to die. You are again on that freeway, but now it is raining cats and dogs, and nobody is there! You have brand new tires, a million miles of experience and you want to see whether they will hold the road. So you go for 160. But there is always feedback and control. And then you slow down again, cause the rain has already stopped, and there is the most beautiful of rainbows. This is terribly irresponsible. But the kick of experiencing is sometimes necessary to keep one alive.

experiments in a far away past

July 2003: In Germany there is no speed limit on the highways. So you try out your new car driving alone to a customer. You go downhill, way past 200. A truck is moving to the left lane, far away, but so close in just 5 seconds. It takes many long seconds to break. Pure adrenaline.
Only one thought remaining: “Time to be a responsible father again.”

36 thoughts on “on death

  1. I can easily relate to your words:
    “Dying itself is easy. It is the road to death that often is difficult. The road to death is always life.

    Sometimes death is preceded by suffering. Life and suffering, we cannot separate one from the other. The road to death is always life.”
    I’m learning more about “dying before dying” somehow the fear hasn’t been with me for over a year. I sense you are learning to be comfortable with being on the road to death, which is life.
    An amazing post, bert. Thank you

  2. My mother passed at age 38 from ovarian cancer and in the back of my mind, I thought I would die the same painful death as her at the same age. I felt a huge sense of relief when I moved beyond my 30’s. Please take care of yourself Bert.

    • This is a coincidence. My mother died of the same carcinoma. Very painful too, took two years. Many chemos, and even more gamma-rays.
      Two of my cousins died before they were 60, but they were always smoking, and I don’t, so there is no fear here.
      One of my colleagues died in front of his computer at the age of 39. “coronary artery rupture” they said.
      I’m feeling a lot better this week. The cough and the irritations are still there, but the fatigue is gone, concentration is there, I did some gardening in the past 2 days.

  3. As one who is subconsciously conditioned to knowing the time and space it takes to be able to pass cars into the fast lane while doing 75mph, my oh my what a wake up call it was trying not to panic the first time I attempted to judge the speed and distance needed to pass on the autobahn! Takes some courage and some practice to become proficient. I think it must be the same with moving in and out of the rental car that is our physical form. However, I hope you don’t master the moves and nail that final transition too quickly though Bert. I for one would awfully miss your inspired words in the form you share with here! TAKE CARE OF YOUR TIRES and join my current maintenance plan of dying young at a grand old vintage age!

    • Thank you for this uplifting comment. I’m not planning to go for transition yet, although, one never knows. I wonder about that maintenance plan of yours.

  4. You are so right about panic. Since my stroke, my panic level is way down. I have had several incidents that should (would have) provoke panic and didn’t.
    I believe God has helped me here. I have learned to trust that I will be around as long as it is good for me and others to be around. It doesn’t make dying more desirable, simply less fearful.

  5. Wow, you have been on one intense ride. Your perspectives all make sense to me. I remember my MIL expected to die at a certain age, because her mother had died at that age. Only my MIL didn’t and it seemed to give her the sense of a second chance, one she did not squander. Wishing you well – selfishly wanting to keep you around for awhile longer.

    • Well, those ancestors of mine, all died of cancer. My pneumologist (is that an English word?) nearly excluded lung cancer for me, for the next 50 years. He laughed loudly, since I never smoked, but said I’d better watch my heart. Indeed, all those on ‘my list’ who died young, they all smoked.
      I’ll do my best to stay a lot longer.

  6. Hope you feel better soon. I had a similar illness once. I had to prop myself way up with pillows when I feel asleep to try and breath. I woke up in panic mode a number of times. Btw, pneumonia isn’t contagious. In those moments of breaking speed on the highway, I have only managed to go 110 mph. It is harder on the roads here lol. Take care Bert! xx

    • Thank you, Carla. I recognize those pillows, I still use them, be it that they are much less needed than the first half of this month. Pneumonia is indeed, most of the time, not contagious as pneumonia. But this whooping cough i got really is if you don’t take the antibiotics. (which i did).
      BTW, I’m watching my speed, most of the time. Usually the cruise control takes care of that.

      • yeah whooping cough is a different story. Don’t they have a vaccine for that now? I just hope that you get your breathing back to normal soon. My dad is experiencing some breathing problems right now and it scares him to death. The nurse said his was just from anxiety. His heart surgery has really done a number on him. xx

        • I hope your dad will soon be able to go back home and recuperate completely.
          There is a vaccine for the whooping cough, but it is only active for 5-10 years. I got vaccinated when I was born, and that is a very long time ago. The inside experience, and not on wikipedia, is that your lower throat, just below your vocal chords, gets itchy, and can be over-stimulated by any unexpected source, a speck of dust, a cold drink, smoke, you name it. An extra problem is the viscosity of the phlegms. I don’t feel tired anymore, so there is always progress.

  7. Bert!! Words fail. Words are feeble for a post like this. You have had close calls, come close to death, brushing it’s cloak. You say you like life but if you are having suicidal thoughts, and worse, actions, I implore you to get help. My words can’t touch what I feel when I read this. I have toyed with suicide and know death’s siren song. But I think I speak for many, MANY, not even family, when I say we want you around on this side of consciousness. Please talk to someone who can understand and help you through whatever it is that has you toying with dying.

    • I’m sorry to have made you think like that. It certainly is extremely irresponsible to drive this fast on a public road, and it should better be done on a circuit, but in a way it is more or less the same as benji-jumping in controlled conditions.
      The thoughts were not suicidal in a depressed way of thinking. It’s more like top gear behaviour. When there is no more fear of death. And then there is, and the adolescent becomes a father again.

      • I know the feeling of top-gear, too. Not good, Bert. Death is close enough without tempting it. Do I sound like a scold? I am sorry. Just came from a memorial mass Sat. and saw the devastation death leaves the persons left behind and know it in my heart.

        • I suppose that the desire for kicks is based on ever wanting more to feel the same reward/experience – just a search for pleasure. I’m sorry having confronted you so soon after memorial mass. There is nothing wrong with scolding, when it is not done in the context of a power game, like here.

            • Hope you are okay. No post yesterday. Maybe you are doing some necessary resting and if so, hope it is helping. Feel I should apologize but feel a duty when someone mentions death wishes, etc. Blessings of health and well-being, Ellen

            • Everything is OK, as I just replied to “LuAnn”. Feeling a lot better.
              I have reduced the number of posts per week to 4. And I’ll try to keep it this way. Sometimes I write more, like today, but then there is some space for scheduling – like today in about an hour, and next Saturday morning.

  8. There’s a line from a song by Annie Lennox: ‘Dying is easy, it’s living that scares me to death’. Hope you are feeling more normal now. Be careful…

    • Thank you.
      Pertussis is a strange disease. I haven’t felt normal since more than a month, but perhaps death is closer to us when we think everything is normal and safe. 🙂 It is more of a social disease. I don’t want to scare people when coughing.

      • Death is always there, true. It’s ok to be out there on the edge of normality, just observing it and understanding that. But without mindfulness you can allow it to become extraordinary and lose the ability to judge what’s best for you – more and more making decisions based on what you are convinced is correct but in fact is an illusion. Be careful of that…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s