US, WASHINGTON (ORDO NEWS) — Each person will have to die sooner or later, but only a few are willing to talk openly about death. “Even many elderly people are silent because they don’t want to burden the young – and sometimes because they are embarrassed to talk about their own fears,” wrote the Swiss writer Mena Cost.
However, this, in her opinion, is wrong: “Talking about death is useful. Because then you can together accept the fact that she will come – to accept at least in part. Because such conversations contribute to a sense of unity of people.”
Together with photographer Annette Boutellier, Mena Coast met with people who would soon leave this world. In total, they talked to 15 men and women aged 83 to 111 years, and they told what they think about death. These conversations, included in Ausleben book, took place between autumn 2018 and autumn 2019. Some of these people died this year.
How does it feel to look forward at the end of life? “Many older people lose their fear of death. Some even begin to treat her kindly and with humor, ”Kost summed up.
This article focuses on six women and men. The author later additionally asked two of them what they think about the crisis caused by the coronavirus.
Ralph Gentner, born 1932
Paintings hang on the walls, the furniture is designed in a classic style, the kitchen is old, an ashtray is on the table, The New Yorker magazine is lying on the floor. In an interview, a former Atelier 5 architectural bureau from Berne smokes one cigarette after another. And he is not at all nervous – Ralph Gentner personifies peace itself.
“It would be nice to die from a stroke. It’s okay that you know that you’re going to die soon, but don’t just suffer from it. I knew someone who died that way. He also invited friends, they drank champagne together. I would probably do that too. But not champagne, I don’t like him. Maybe beer or red wine. For friends, that would be good too. When I die, they will be sad. But not to me – after all, I will be gone.
When my father died, I managed to visit him. And he talked about what will happen after his death. He said that I should visit my mother more often and something else. It was a normal conversation – without any sadness.
I have a whole “cemetery” in the kitchen from photographs of people whom I knew and who have already died. Sometimes, looking at them, I recall something that we had a chance to experience together.
I used to think that I would like to be buried in a common grave in the Bremgarten cemetery. I have been to many funerals there. There was a large stone with a lid on the front side. They opened it and poured the ashes from the urn there. Small fragments of bones always remained in the dust, and they could be heard falling down. It always fascinated me.
But now everything is different there, and I thought that it would be better if they dumped my ashes into the Are river or scattered them over the Mediterranean Sea. But I would prefer the Mediterranean Sea. I have no children – at least those that I would know about. As executors of my last will, I indicated in the will of the godson and one friend. I think they will fulfill my will regarding dust.
I have many friends younger than me – 20-30 years old. They will die later than me. This is a great happiness for me, it improves the quality of life in old age. We have lunch together, go on vacation, etc. At this age, you need young friends, otherwise you’ll talk about old times all the time.
When I ride a tram, I look at young people and try to imagine what these people will be like in old age. I also look at old people and imagine them in my youth. When I get on the tram, half of the passengers get up and give way to me. And then I think about what people think of my age.
During the outbreak of coronavirus, my opinion about death has not changed – the truth. But when this whole circus around the virus began, I began to see friends much less often. In addition, I now wash my hands endlessly. I also read more than before, because now I have a lot of free time.
I have a couple of people I know with whom we go shopping together. But sometimes I go alone. I especially miss the opportunity now to dine in restaurants or eateries. In general, the virus really greatly interferes, but I certainly hope that it will pass soon. Although, it seems that this story will still last quite a long time.”
Sophie Pfister-Odermatt, born. 1929
The air is just icy. Sophie Pfister-Odermatt points to a blue house on the other side of the snowy garden. Not long ago, the old courtyard was located there, where she lived almost her entire conscious life. Now she has moved so that young people build new homes. But the old chicken coop is still standing.
“Recently, I have been thinking about death. I used to think: I still have 50 years to live, then – 20 years. But now there is almost nothing left – I am 90 years old. In our village, someone is constantly dying. We are gradually leaving, including I am losing my friends. I miss them.
The world has changed a lot – this is not quite our world. Not only because we know less and less people. Everything is changing and technological progress.
Sometimes I just stop understanding the words. It used to live better – when I controlled the situation around me. But maybe it is felt not only by me, but also by others? Sometimes it seems to me that young people can not always keep up with this world.
Death can have different faces: when people die in war, or from hunger, or from exhaustion, such death is cruel. Or when a person is still young, but knows that he will die soon – and he may have small children. This, of course, is especially difficult, and it is impossible to come to terms with it.
But if a person has lived a long life and will die relatively soon, this is something else. We old people have nothing to lose: my mother and father, brother, school friends and even my husband – all have already died. So they up there have settled down and are waiting for me.
If someone is afraid to think about death, then it can be useful to talk about it. I have one girlfriend who recently fell, sprained her leg and broke something else there. Since then she lies. I visit her every Thursday. With her we talk a lot about death. So it is necessary – sometimes it is necessary to talk.
I myself would rather die without noticing it. So that I suddenly died, and those younger than me just noticed that I was gone. How to bury me, let them decide for themselves. The only thing: I would not want my dust to be scattered somewhere, because then there will be no place where you can come to me. In addition, the cemetery in the spring is so good – everything blooms around.
In the evenings I sometimes lie in bed and think: for example, I remember some things or names that I had forgotten. This is age. There was simply no room left in my head – it was full of things that I had a chance to survive. If you could buy a new head, I would buy. However, I never wanted to live forever, no. But a little more, I will live with pleasure. ”
Alice Schaufelberger, clan 1908
Alice Schaufelberger’s living room in a nursing home in Zurich has no books, no radio, no television. She doesn’t need all this. She reads only the Bible and the weekly newspaper Glückspost (The Post of Happiness). In 1908, when she was born, no one could know that one day she would become the oldest resident in all of Switzerland.
“Now I’m the oldest – and it’s just a miracle. Mother always said how hard it was for her to raise me. She had to constantly follow me. I had an old uncle who sometimes protected me when someone else came into the field. Then he told me that I almost fit in my father’s wooden shoe. I’m not a giantess even today. But I have been healthy all my life.
Every day I wake up with pleasure and am quite able to cope with what I need to do. When I feel good, I go to the dining room. True, the staff have to take me there and bring me back – I myself will not get there. I also can no longer put on socks myself, because I fall when I bend.
I really think about death. I have no more brothers or sisters left. And then I ask myself: who will help me when I need help. I asked the management of the nursing home about this, and they answered me: “Well, then what are we? We will help you, Madam Schaufelberger! “So I don’t worry about that anymore.
I’m not afraid of death, no. I read the Bible a lot and pray in the evening and in the morning. Sometimes I pray in the afternoon, if it becomes difficult. I feel a close connection with God and Jesus, and it helps me a lot. I think when my hour strikes, the Lord will take me home.
There are not many relatives at my age – I am already alone. What can you do, it happens when you have no children. But I can do it quite well – I accept it as it is. I accept one day after another and in the mornings I am glad that I woke up.”
Hesso Hoesley, genus 1931
Hesso Hösli has already buried many in his life. The former pastor sits in a simply furnished room: a wooden table, four chairs, a cross on the wall. Windows overlook Lake Zurich. Two years ago, Hoesley joined the Capuchin community of the Rapperswil Monastery, because he was constantly tired of eating alone in the pastor’s house.
“Before I ended up here in the monastery, I was so busy that I did not have time to think about death. At least not about my own. Before retiring, I worked as a teacher of mathematics and physics and led the youth organization Jungwacht Schweiz. Then I served as a pastor for 21 years and also oversaw two Capuchin monasteries.
Cremate me or bury me, I absolutely do not care. But they probably cremate me. We have a crypt here, and there is not much space. In addition, we always have a lot to do: one is celebrating mass there, the other is here. Therefore, it is practical when you can choose the date of the requiem. With the urn, of course, there are more possibilities than with the body. That is, I wrote: both options are possible, at the discretion of the leadership.
I rarely had to be where someone was dying. Sometimes they called me, it was like that. But more often than not, I did not know for sure whether the person was still alive or not. Only recently I was called to a woman. She looked evil when I arrived, somehow bitterly.
But then I told her that now everything was fine and she should not be afraid of anything. “You are not alone, Jesus is with you,” I told her. Then she suddenly smiled. It’s good for a dying man to say it confidently.
I would also like someone to be around when I leave. That is, if he behaves wisely. He must support me in faith, inspire confidence. As a church representative, sometimes you need to ask yourself: how true are the words you say? When I die, there must be someone around who I perceive properly. It is important that this comes from the heart. Otherwise, I will think, dying: “Well, enough of these speeches!”
He who is reconciled with his whole life dies easier. Some dead people look truly happy. Of them, I sometimes think that in the last step, on the path from almost death to absolute death, perhaps there is still a ray of light.
Since I was a pastor for 21 years, I have many sermons ready. One for every Sunday, arranged in different folders. When I die, I will leave them all. The fear of death is becoming less and less. There is a feeling that in my life I was always where the Lord wanted me to be. If I have to leave, that will be right.”
Annie Aquamoa, clan 1935
Annie Akuamoa sits barefoot on the couch in her two-bedroom apartment in Basel. A former midwife and operating nurse talks about her childhood in Ghana. She unzips the pink-red velvet pillow lying on her lap. Gently takes out something.
“Please, my mom’s hair. All after one single haircut. She had wonderful hair. Give them to me, I told her when she was staying with me here in Basel – then you will always be with me. When I get bored, I will take your hair in my hands. Even today.
I still have a small fear of death – everyone has it. But this is easy fear. I live. Today I live. And I’m trying to live well. But I pray that the next day will be good.
I was born in 1935 in Ghana, in a small village near Accra. My father had three wives and a total of eleven children. My mother was his first wife. We children got along well with each other, played a lot together and constantly quarreled – that is, everything was absolutely normal.
In our family, children were the most important. Father always said: “Knowledge is power,” that is, we all had to go to school. I walked without much pleasure.
Death, of course, bothers me. But I believe in God and know that he will help me. I will go to him when I die, and he will come out to meet me.
We always celebrate Christmas here in Basel, in our Carol Night community. Together we sing Christmas songs. There are lights, candles, pastries, everything is there. This is incredibly beautiful. I think it will be exactly the same when you leave. In heaven No pain, no disease, nothing. Only singing. With angels in heaven.
I have no more plans for the future. But I have a hope that I will be fine. I pray about this every day. In any case, I do not want to live forever. What for? To hurt, to hurt?
I practically don’t eat, I just don’t like it anymore. But I really like to watch TV. I used to travel – today I watch the world on TV. Most of all I like movies about the underwater world. I love underwater animals. There are people who say that there is no god. But when you observe these animals, you understand that God must exist. ”
Werner Arber, born 1929
Between the stacks of papers, Werner Arber sees Rhine. Brown-green water flows under the Dreirozenbrueck bridge. A microbiologist and geneticist is sitting at a desk in his office on the top floor of the old Basel Biocenter. A Nobel Prize laureate comes here about once a week. For work.
“At this age, something needs to be let go. For example, after a heart attack three years ago, I was limited in something: trips began to be harder than before, and I made less reports. I can no longer work so much and should focus on the main thing.
But I accept it without objection. I am very grateful for my long life. I am happy with the family. I do not regret anything. And I know that I will have to die.
There are many causes of death in life. We know a lot about medicine, but it is not always possible to prevent impending death. The current coronavirus pandemic in this regard is a particular problem, because we still do not have reliable medical means to combat it.
Many years ago, I began to think about death. Including because I learned a lot about the processes of evolution from work. He who has descendants will not live forever – this is a concept. If we lived forever, soon there would not be enough space on Earth, and we could no longer produce children.
Since the days of Darwin, we know that gene mutations allow living things to randomly try to adapt to all life situations. Every living creature should have a chance to multiply and try a new mutation. That is, people die, including for the development of mankind.
I have no fear of death. But the fact that my work and my life have long-term consequences helps me a lot. Firstly, my research, which laid the foundation for modern molecular genetics. Secondly, my children. They carry hereditary information – mine and my wife. That is, we transfer further our qualities – beyond death.
Even if new hereditary information is constantly added, the old, that is mine, will never completely disappear. This is a great thought. Plus upbringing – we people have been living with our children for many years. And from this we take something and then pass it on to the children.
When a person dies, it is necessary to console those who are still alive. Sometimes it works, and sometimes not. One of our friends is very suffering after the death of her husband. I haven’t been sad for so long. With the burial of the body, death moves one step away from me What stays with me when someone dies is good memories.
I was raised by a religious person, and Christianity is always a model for me. I like the trinity. Jesus was a man, he had to – like all of us – die. While living, he showed us what a good life should be like on Earth. The Creator and the Holy Spirit, in contrast, are, in my opinion, responsible for the universe. When the big bang took place, both took responsibility for the foundation of life.
As for this foundation, by the way, I’m thinking not about large molecules, but about particles of atoms. When I die, I will return these foundation bricks back, and they will be able to contribute to the creation of something new. It can be a plant or a worm. I think it’s very good to know that you are returning these bricks. For me it’s a resurrection. From this point of view, I feel safe.”
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