What price eternity?

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Following Michael Jarvis’s piece earlier today, I’m beginning to wonder whether death-denial isn’t more prevalent among the elderly than the young.

In the September Oldie magazine (strapline: ‘ticking the right boxes’) agony aunt Mavis Nicholson prints a couple of letters from readers: 

Dear Mavis

Re your piece in the Summer issue on dying, I’m so glad I’m not the only one who thinks she is not destined for death! For no reason I can think of I’ve always had the feeling that I’m not going to die. I shouldn’t wonder if there isn’t a whole pack of us out there, suffering from this delusion. I wonder if it has a name? Perhaps we should coin one. I’ll be interested to know if you get more responses from people with this ‘complaint’. 

Vivienne Rendall

Dear Mavis,

As usual, I looked at my Summer Oldie back to front, so started with you, a mere 81, not believing you’d ever die. I’m 86 and also quite unable to consider not being here any more. Like your Rob Woods, I believe part of us goes on. 

But — let’s be realistic — the more likely answer is that our brains are just not programmed to comprehend nothingness, so we invent endless theories about what might happen in the afterlife: heaven, hell, reincarnation, whatever. I have now reduced my expectations from eternal life to aiming for 100, now no longer as rare as it used to be. 

Helga Harman. 

Immortality therapy might do the trick. A dose of Gulliver’s Travels for starters.

When he first lands in Luggnagg and beholds the Struldbrugs, Gulliver “cried out as in a rapture; happy nation where every child hath at least a chance for being immortal!”

Gulliver revises his opinion when he realises that “the question therefore was not whether a man would choose to be always in the prime of youth, attended with prosperity and health, but how he would pass an eternal life under all the usual disadvantages which old age brings along with it … The diseases they were subject to still continue without increasing or diminishing. In talking, they forget the common appellation of things and the names of persons, even those who are their nearest friends and relations.”

It gets worse. 


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