Death has been close to me recently.
Our neighbor died, my dad’s brother died, a business school classmate died.
I am aware of our mortality but these various losses have brought that difficult truth front and center.
In this already vulnerable state, I read Laurie Anderson’s farewell to Lou Reed in Rolling Stone. It seems every journalist and musician had some reflection on Reed’s importance as a musician, a New Yorker, an observer of life, but Anderson spent two decades loving Reed and shared a powerful, intimate essay on his life and death.
Part of Anderson’s story:
Last spring, at the last minute, he received a liver transplant, which seemed to work perfectly, and he almost instantly regained his health and energy. Then that, too, began to fail, and there was no way out. But when the doctor said, “That’s it. We have no more options,” the only part of that Lou heard was “options” – he didn’t give up until the last half-hour of his life, when he suddenly accepted it – all at once and completely. We were at home – I’d gotten him out of the hospital a few days before – and even though he was extremely weak, he insisted on going out into the bright morning light.
As meditators, we had prepared for this – how to move the energy up from the belly and into the heart and out through the head. I have never seen an expression as full of wonder as Lou’s as he died. His hands were doing the water-flowing 21-form of tai chi. His eyes were wide open. I was holding in my arms the person I loved the most in the world, and talking to him as he died. His heart stopped. He wasn’t afraid. I had gotten to walk with him to the end of the world. Life – so beautiful, painful and dazzling – does not get better than that. And death? I believe that the purpose of death is the release of love.
At the moment, I have only the greatest happiness and I am so proud of the way he lived and died, of his incredible power and grace.
I’m sure he will come to me in my dreams and will seem to be alive again. And I am suddenly standing here by myself stunned and grateful. How strange, exciting and miraculous that we can change each other so much, love each other so much through our words and music and our real lives.
She packs so much into those four paragraphs. I’m struck by the intensity of her words, how clear it is that love is the meaning of life and that saying goodbye to her mate didn’t dull that insight but instead made it stronger. She felt it an honor to accompany him until his last breath.
And when my time comes, I aspire to follow Reed’s example. He fought with everything he had to keep enjoying his life here on Earth, then when it was clear death would win, he died at peace, accepting the inevitability of what was coming, and giving and receiving love.
If you have a tissue in hand, I encourage you to read the rest of Anderson’s touching goodbye: http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/laurie-andersons-farewell-to-lou-reed-a-rolling-stone-exclusive-20131106#ixzz2kB6XwYaf
Some related blog posts about death and love:
- Steve Jobs reflects on the meaning of death
- Reblog from Cameron Boehmer: Fear Makes You Less Human, Love Makes You More
- Insights from dying people to help the rest of us with living
- Nothing motivates a journalist like a deadline
- If someone you love died today, would you have regrets?
- David Foster Wallace’s commencement address is beautiful and tragic
- The prayer of St. Francis (Francis Albert Sinatra, that is)
- Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture
- “One Month to Live” encourages readers to face mortality and live life to the fullest