MYTH AND MORTALITY
MYTH AND MORTALITY: TESTING THE STORIES, by Harry Willson, relates the author's field of expertise, that is, mythology, to the field of Death and Dying. Years of counseling the sick and dying, and years of searching with students for answers to life's big questions, have helped him with this task.
The actual work of preparing this book was triggered by the way Willson's parents died: his mother suddenly and easily, doing her self-appointed task which was caring for her ailing husband, and his father slowly and miserably, not believing in the end what he had so assiduously taught others all his life. "His mythology let him down," Willson says. The first twenty-six pages of the book tell that dramatic story -- "Two Deaths One Summer."
Then follow essays entitled, "The Denial of Death," "Our Aging Population," and "We Need a Mythology. The last one introduces the main body of the book, which works through thirty-two different beliefs or metaphors dealing with death, and gives frank evaluations of how helpful they may be for persons confronting death. They are arranged according to the source of the myths under analysis.
Willson deals first with Stories from Infantile Wishing. Then he proceeds to stories from Contemporary Media, from Socio-Political Movements and from Practical Observation. His most striking innovation is the distinction between Stories from Religion, which are designed to preserve Ego, and Stories from Philosophy, which enable us to transcend Ego.
The book ends with an essay, "Whose Task Is This?" in which the author challenges each reader to be in some way ready to be responsible for his or her own departure. Ego is the problem.
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"Warning: This book may cause episodes of serious thinking to occur in some readers, especially those over the age of fifty. It could also cause strong re-evaluation of readers' religious understandings, especially in persons who have not allowed themselves to think about and question the stories from childhood and Sunday School.
"Harry Willson moves through life thinking, searching and asking the questions we all would ask, if we were brave enough. Searching has produced some answers, which, thankfully, he shares with us in MYTH AND MORTALITY. However, he does not impose those answers on us, because he knows that all of us who give serious thought to these questions will move forward in our own search."
-- Shirley Little, Humanist Society of New Mexico
"Charles Dudley Warner, nineteenth century author and sometime editor of Harper's Magazine, said, 'Everybody talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it.' With death we have the reverse: everybody does it but nobody talks about it. Harry breaks this silence. He examines death from many angles, assesses the myths surrounding it, and helps his readers think about the subject without fear. He catches and holds interest by stories, including poingant accounts of the deaths of his parents. He gently persuades us that mortality is real; expecting to pass through death to another life is a vain delusion. In doing this, however, he reinforces the truth of a line in Sunday Morning by Wallace Stevens: 'Death is the mother of beauty.' The fact that our lives come to an end compels us to savor with relish the beauty and good that we experience: flowers, birdsong, starry sky, graphic art, music, love."
-- Hershey Julien, Ph.D., U.S. representative of Sea of Faith
"This book is provocative reading for anyone who is dealing with death or will face death one day, that is, ALL OF US. Harry Willson examines his personal intense familial experience with death and then proceeds to examine all the myths prevalent in our society that deal with death. Though he has a definite point of view, he does not proselytize. He enables readers to do their own soul- searching. He ends with the notion that each of us can be somewhat responsible for our own exit from the world."
-- Rhoda Karp, Hospice social worker, retired
"Willson's book takes us from his raw, poignantly emotional experience of the death and dying of his parents to an examination of the universal myths that mankind has created since time immemorial to deal with this experience. I laughed out loud and cried while reading his book, and I recommend it as a thoughtful guide to all of us who will not escape this journey."
-- Ruth E. Francis, NM Book Association and NM Book Co-op
"A thoughtful, powerful, and moving examination of attitudes toward death. Harry Willson uses his own experiences, currently popular beliefs, and mythologies from various cultures to view the subject from many angles. A former scientist and minister, now a humanist, editor, and author, he brings a well-rounded perspective to the subject. Highly recommended to anyone wrestling with the issue of mortality."
-- Jon Nimitz, Ph.D., Compassion and Choices, New Mexico Chapter
MYTH AND MORTALITY|
TESTING THE STORIES
by Harry Willson
I. Two Deaths One Summer
II. The Denial of Death
III. Our Aging Population
IV. We Need a Mythology
V. Stories from Infantile Wishing
VI. Stories from the Contemporary Media
VII. Stories from Socio-political Movements
IX. Stories from Religion, Which Preserve Ego
X. Stories from Philosophy, Which Transcend Ego
XI. Whose Task Is This?