97-year-old facing death

Here’s looking at you, Death.

A 97-year-old Philosopher, Herbert Fingarette, Looks at Death and the Meaning of Life.

His Enigmatic Last Words May Be Key to the Mystery of Life

Being 97 is a wonderful video (below) made by his grandson Andrew Hasse. Note the quiet dedication of the caregiver Sherly Pontis.

HIS LAST WORDS

The day before he died in 2018, after many hours in silence with his eyes closed, Mr. Fingarette suddenly looked up and said, “Well, that’s clear enough!”

Andrew Hasse notes that his last cryptic message is open to interpretation, “but I’d like to believe that he might have seen at least a glimpse of something beyond death.”

➡️ youtu.be/qX6NztnPU-4 ⬅️

Reprinted from Richard Wagner’s The Amateur’s Guide to Death and Dying

In his 1996 book about death, Herbert Fingarette argued that fearing one’s own demise was irrational. When you die, he wrote, “there is nothing.” Why should we fear the absence of being when we won’t be there ourselves to suffer it?

Twenty years later, facing his own mortality, the philosopher realized that he’d been wrong. Death began to frighten him, and he couldn’t think himself out of it.

Fingarette, who for 40 years taught philosophy at the University of California at Santa Barbara, had also written extensively on self-deception. Now, at 97, he wondered whether he’d been deceiving himself about the meaning of life and death.

“It haunts me, the idea of dying soon, whether there’s a good reason or not,” he says in Andrew Hasse’s short documentary Being 97. “I walk around often and ask myself, ‘What is the point of it all?’ There must be something I’m missing. I wish I knew.”

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Letting go

Let your wife go, man, let her be at peace

That revelation in the heading came to me suddenly after a year of madness. That is the calm voice of reason — not to say it could be replaced in the wink of a tearful eye with the jackdaw of unreason.

The cry of the jackdaw has been filling this empty house ever since the death of my wife just before the Christmas before last. I have staggered insanely and stumbled drunkenly throughout the house we shared ranting and raving fevered laments for my lost wife — I want you back! I can’t go on without you! And so on and so forth.

If only you were still in the nursing home, I would cry out, then I could visit you — because you’d still be alive!

But, in lucid moments I had to admit that would be grossly and painfully unfair to her — hooked up to machines, no independence, no dignity. She was in four nursing homes in the last three years of her illness — necessary rehab after several hospitalizations.

The nursing homes ranged from hellish to life-saving. When I brought her home from he last one — the best, one that put her back onto the road to recovery — we both looked foreword to Christmas and the new year and several more years together in our house in the New York countryside.

But then, just as she was getting better — Fate (God? What?) struck her down with a fatal blow — a brain hemorrhage from which she never recovered.

And so began the mad ranting and tearful raving in the house on County Rode 9. For more than a year, insanity raged throughout the house — damn good thing the nearest neighbor is not within shouting distance.

And then — just yesterday in fact, came the epiphany. In the middle of one of my tearful insane rants, a Buddha-type voice suddenly came into my head:

Let her go, man, don’t torment her with your selfish entreaties, let her soul rest, let her be at peace, let both of you be at peace She’s never coming back, man. Cherish the memories of the years you were together, the places you visited, from Montreal to Copenhagen to Prague to Sydney, that’s all you have, man, those precious memories, treasure them, and honor her memory with courage and calm.

Damn, that little Buddha in my head was a long-winded little fellah, but very cool stuff. I knew he was right — stop the desperate and pointless rants because they are upsetting and unsettling my wife in her place of rest — wherever it may be.

But, goddammit, the hardest thing in my life was losing her — the second hardest is letting her go.

WHAT NOW?

Now what? asks grieving husband at the crossroads

A WAY OUT OR A DEAD END?

I have reached the What do I do now? stage in my life.

Well, not me exactly, but a guy named Billy Boy, a creation of Renata de Dios, whose name, curiously enough, translates as Born again of God.

Billy Boy—I’ll just call him Bill—watches a lot of movies on TV. The other night he re-watched The Candidate with Robert Redford.

Bill is not comparing himself to Robert Redford of course, but that question he asks at the end of the movie — What do we do now? — is, in a different context, Bill’s question, and that empty hotel room in the last shot is the equivalent of his once-upon-a-time living room, now known as the dead room, and it is the equivalent of his wife’s empty armchair,

Empty chairs

and it is the equivalent of his empty house, and to stretch it to a melodramatic point, the equivalent of his life now, without his wife, who for thirty-four years was his life.

Renata de Dios tells Billy he’s at a Crossroads, and to take the road that leads to God, but his irreligious mind doesn’t even know where to start looking, and so he continues to drink and tells her in a late-night phone call, What has been lost is now found, but now found is lost.

To which Renata replies, Plato-like, I’m not sure I understand your meaning, Socrates.

There’s nothing to understand, of course, because the utterance is sheer 80-proof nonsense.

Last night Bill re-watched the movie The Verdict, and was particularly interested when Paul Newman gave his wonderful summation and spoke these words,

In my religion we say, act as if you have faith and faith will be given to you.

Okay, Bill will buy a ticket to that, but how exactly do you act as if you have faith? — pray, read C.S. Lewis and other spiritual literature, go to church, keep an open mind? He’s been doing all those things — and yet still nothing. He’s willing to try anything — suspension of belief, drugs, insanity, enlist the aid of the Silver Surfer — anything that will bring him closer to his wife.

So, the question remains, now what?