Preoccupied with Death and Dying

Robin Botie of ithaca, New York, photoshops a scene depicting her vision of a good death.The biggest ant I ever saw was flat on its back on my kitchen counter. It was waving its little limbs frantically when I went to bed that night too tired to deal with it. In the morning the intrepid ant was still there. When I put on my glasses, I could see it was still pawing at the air, but with somewhat less vigor.

And while I stood over it, wielding my mini-vac—my preferred method of bug removal—I considered how I might instead move the ant to a grassy spot outside. This would not be easy. Small creatures with many more legs than I have always kinda creeped me out. Bug phobia. It goes back over half a century. I’d once made a 24-inch-long paper mache ant for a grade school science project, partly to face my terror.

More recently, partly to face another fear, my terror of death and dying, I attended a workshop where we wrote about how we wanted to die. For a good death, I wrote, I would be lying in lush grass, under the open sky, near a forest with ferns. With friends nearby, I would listen to the sweet sounds of my favorite bugle calls, Tattoo and Taps.
“You’re pretty preoccupied with death these days,” a friend accused. Yes, I agreed. Because, maybe if I made a project of it, I could lose my terror.

But back to that morning, with the ant. It was writhing in slow motion, making me queasy about facing breakfast—and suddenly it stopped moving.

I stared at the lifeless insect. All I wanted was to suck the critter up into the depths of the dust-buster, to get rid of it. But I couldn’t do that after spending months preparing to sit vigil and help the dying. Hoping there was still time for the bug’s last moments, I used a teaspoon to sweep it into an empty yogurt container. And holding it at arm’s length, I ran outside and gently shook the poor creature out onto the grass.

The ant slid out, landing on its feet. It took off creeping. For a moment I watched it climb shakily from blade to blade of dewy grass. I watched as butterflies and dragonflies flew by. Until it hit me—I’d saved a life. Because of my preoccupation with death. Maybe then I felt just the tiniest bit better about bugs and death in general.


What creeps you out? What does a good death mean for you?

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8 thoughts on “Preoccupied with Death and Dying

  1. Pingback: Afraid of Dying | ANYTHING'S POSSIBLE - EVEN JOY

  2. Elaine Mansfield

    Robin, I get it. I have a little love affair with Monarch caterpillars and if one rides on a milkweed leaf to my back porch as I collect food for my dwindling brood (one more released today), I’m helpless. I keep it on its leaf and let it eat and thrive. Will it be a butterfly in time for migration? I don’t know, but I have to try. I think humans are naive when they aren’t considering their death and that we’re all here on borrowed time. I think one of the wisest things about that non-religion/religion Buddhism is death is always in the forefront and helps with decisions. Does this matter? Is it worth doing? Will it decrease suffering? Keep thinking and sharing your reflections.

  3. Annette Corth

    No pain. No discomfort. Probably go to sleep and not wake up. No fuss before or after.

    1. Robin Botie Post author

      I’m wishing you the best, quickest, least uncomfortable journey to the other side, Annette. But maybe we can squeak in a few more lobsters and dinners at Mia’s restaurant before you go.

  4. Jacqueline Preston

    How this brings back memories! When my now angel was about 9 months old, my husband and I realized the neighborhood we lived in, with a wooded area at the end of the block, was also the home for numerous roaches and the like. Our house was on the market within a month. Believe me, though, after finding those nasty critters on my floor where my 9 month old would play (from that first day on, she was on a big blanket on the floor), facing an ant would be child’s play. Congrats on saving your first insect life, I do the same when I can, except maybe for any spider I see. I hate them with a passion left over from my childhood, when I would scream bloody murder whenever I encountered one, especially if it was in my bedroom!

    1. Robin Botie Post author

      Oh how I wish I could gather up the courage to scream as that has been what I’ve felt like doing my entire life, every time I encounter a spider. Nope, I have to get nauseous, run trembling to the other side of the building, and beg others to please get rid of the bug. When my sister gave me a mini-vac as a baby gift 30 years ago, it became my magic wand. So empowering. But then I started hanging with right-to-lifers-for-bugs-and-all-living-things. Friends made me feel guilty for even simply moving a bug with a stick (forget that I was a closet-killer with a quick draw on the min-vac). You are so brave. I don’t know if I can ever even dare mention out loud or in print that I hate spiders with a passion. I do feel better about bugs in general these days. They are my neighbors (housemates?) for sure. But if it weren’t for my obsession with keeping a clean karma, I don’t believe I’d be going through all the trouble of the rescue-removals from my house.

  5. Lynne Taetzsch

    Robin, I have a spider phobia, so I understand your trauma with the ant! Congrats for being able to save its life.

    I buried my husband at Greensprings Natural Cemetery in Newfield, and that’s where I have a plot also. It’s an environmentally friendly way to let our bodies decompose and nourish other life.

    I’ve had a good life and feel OK about dying. I’d rather avoid the suffering of illness and its treatment that often comes before the end, and that’s why I’m a supporter of Hospicare

    1. Robin Botie Post author

      Me too, Lynne, I am so grateful for Hospicare. And I agree with your preference to avoid pain and suffering, especially from treatments that are supposed to maybe save you. It must be neat to know where you, your body, will end up. That Greensprings place sounds like a winner. I haven’t been there yet but am thinking I should definitely visit it. I’ve never considered having a plot in a cemetery. Maybe it would be different if I had more family. I’m wondering how that works with your spider phobia.


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