Wednesday, September 25, 2013

On death and dying

Today my thoughts were on death and dying. Dr. Donald Low died recently. The news channels are all agog with discussions about a video his family has posthumously released where he has advocated Assisted Suicide for people hurtling towards an inevitable and often painful death. In his case a debilitating terminal brain tumour.

Then, there was the news that Fairfax Financial's (FF) Prem Watsa, hitherto newly resigned Blackberry board member, had put in a bid for FF to take Blackberry private, ostensibly to retain its Canadian ownership, but in my mind, heralding its imminent death.

Both news items struck a chord for similar and vastly different reasons. Both enjoyed their glory days. They were rock stars on Canada's stage, one the voice of reason amidst the frightening SARS epidemic and the other the digital device of the world's elite. But all rock stars have their end and sometimes tragic ones as in the lives of these two. Canada's laws would not allow Dr. Low to end his life painlessly as he had wanted to, surrounded by his family, after his favourite meal and a glass of scotch, his wife said. Instead, his end came gasping for breath in her arms, mercifully a mere ten days after the taping of that video. Blackberry too, chronically ill for two years, may be spared protracted dying. However it is hard to imagine its clean finish once it goes private, when its 2 billion in cash reserves and hundreds of patents are prime sources of attraction for its the prospective buyer – sadly, not the future revival of a Canadian icon.

It is always a source of amazement to me, as has been echoed by Hindu sages and philosophers of yore, that we live feeling so disconnected from death and the process of dying. We honestly do not believe it could happen to us anytime soon. Even when we rationally know it will, we do not stop to think how it will come. Therefore, most of us are unable or unwilling to sympathize with Dr. Low's plea. Not surprising then that we would do the same with Blackberry even as we watched its share value go from 80 billion dollars 2 years ago, to its present 4 billion, the asking price.

Is it that we live somewhat deluded, with a false sense of hope and comfort cocooned in platitudes which have no substance? We could remove these false security traps and be more actively present, actually listening. In the case of Blackberry this would have meant its management owning up to its fate 2 years ago and reinventing itself more aggressively to take on the firmament populated by Android and Apple devices, or selling it, thereby bringing a dignified end to Blackberry as we have come to know and love it. Having said this, it is no surprise to me that we approach the externalities of life just as we approach the relationship to our bodies, its inevitable death, and the process of dying!

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