As I have noted from time to time , I am a fan of the music of Toad The Wet Sprocket, a power pop quartet with a goofy name taken straight out of a Monty Python Flying Circus skit. Among the songs that the band released to general acclaim and popularity among the college rock and adult alternative crowd of the early to mid-1990’s was the song “I Will Not Take These Things For Granted,” which is a song I have in mind this particular day. As it happens, while I write these words my maternal grandmother, my last surviving grandparents, has turned 86 years of age, and while in the past I would make the call to have awkward conversations on the phone with this habitually reserved Canadian-born woman with a bit of a stiff upper lip as I remember it in my own youth, her residence in an assisted living facility where she is dealing with frailty of mind and body, this year it remains for me to think and ponder about the nature of life as it winds its way towards its conclusion, and the way that life and death force us to confront what we tend to take most for granted.
Most of us have some sort of preference in the context in which we would want to die. As a somewhat morbid and gloomy person by nature, I have observed the way that other people approached death and pondered what it means and what sort of positive or negative lessons I wish to take from the examples of those around me. Recently, for example, a friend of mine died after a lingering illness of a kind that I may suffer someday given my own health concerns and died in such a lingering but tranquil fashion that he planned out his memorial and death rituals in considerable detail, in which I played a small but appreciative part. At other times death has come suddenly, not because the person dying was unaware of their health but because they did not wish to communicate the state of their health until it was too late for anyone to say goodbye. This was the case, for example, with my father as well as my paternal grandmother, both of whom died without acknowledging the seriousness of their health problems, and it has applied to those I have known less intimately. In some cases death has been far too sudden for there to be anything but grief over the abrupt nature of the death. When I was in high school, for example, a young man in the class behind mine died as a result of being ejected from a car in an accident where his brother was the driver and where he had not been wearing a seat belt. In the course of an instant he went from young and immortal to dead on the way to school, and his brother carried a lot of guilt for having survived the wreck that claimed his well-liked brother’s life.
Death and destruction can come through a variety of means. Some people find themselves destroyed by areas of known vulnerability. People can beat cancer once or twice and find that the same cancer keeps coming back more and more dangerous every time until the body is no longer strong enough to overcome it. Organs that are taxed beyond their capacity can give out, where the person knows that something is an area of weakness but be unable to fix the problem and find their efforts at coping and managing the vulnerabilities are insufficient, and transplants or treatments are either too late or too ineffective to stave off one’s demise. At other times, though, people are blindsided by their death because it strikes them where they thought they were strong. Someone with a quick mind may fall to a disease like dementia which robs them of their intellect little by little. Someone who is fit and in good health may find that their overly strenuous exercise triggered a vulnerability that caught them by surprise. As was the case with the young man I spoke of earlier, we may think ourselves young and invincible and fail to take sensible precautions that would have helped us in the face of the surprises and accidents that are a part of our existence. We are prone to take too much for granted and not to recognize that our lives hang on a slender thread that can be snapped in all too many ways.
Ultimately, we all must die. Our physical forms, no matter how well we treat them or pamper them, and no matter how good the genes and environment we have to work with, will eventually fail. We may perish in our youth, or die in the middle of our life’s journey with much left undone, or we may linger on for a century or even longer, but eventually something will give out and we will perish at long last. And while we live, we feed on other living beings, on plants and animals, who die so that we may live longer. In our death, others feed on us that they may live, at least for a while. In our lives we take much for granted within ourselves and within other people. We take our lives for granted, as well as the lives of friends and families. We take the endurance of our institutions and societies for granted, when they too are temporary and subject to the frailty of their human members. People mourn when languages die, when a country dies, or even when a company does, and we ought to mourn when a marriage dies as well, whether it was murdered or died a natural death. So much of the world around us and within us is like a vapor, passing away into oblivion, neither appreciated or brought to mind until all that remain are bittersweet memories of a lost past that can never be recovered again.
 See, for example: