Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Father Time, Mother Death

Like professor UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh, "I know nothing about the Schiavo matter, and despite that have no opinion."

That said, hearing everyone talk about it does make me miss my mother.

Almost everyone my age has watched family members die. It's tough.

A couple of years ago, it became clear that my mother had Alzheimers (or some other form of progressive, senile dementia). My sister, Jo, moved down to the small town of Haynesville, Louisiana, which she called "God's waiting room," to help her handle her increasingly puzzling, day-to-day life. My other sister, Nan, and I watched from a distance, and visited, but Jo watched it up close, 24/7.

She didn't have to watch it for as long as she'd thought she might. Facing a long downhill slide, my mother addressed the problem, head-on: she starved herself to death.

This practice has a long and honorable history.

The founder of Jainism, Mahavira, starved himself to death after he felt his life's work was complete,
and Jains emulate this, practicing religious death through self-starvation (sallekhana) as a path to salvation. The Greek philospher, Isocrates starved himself at age 98. The amazing Eratosthenes did the same after going blind at 84.

It's easier to view that as a philosophical and historical curiosity when it isn't your mother.

Sainthood is routinely denied to the downright irreligious. Were it not, Jo would be my nominee.

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