Like the rain in England and the heat in Tunisia, death is both unavoidable and inevitable.
The rash of celebrity deaths in 2016 seems to have shaken the world. As far as I can tell, the rate of death has not materially increased on a global basis. But the sheer talent lost in 2016 is undeniable. Bowie, Cohen, Prince, Ali, Michael. It has been a relentless downpour of death. The world has lost some very talented people.
Perhaps it was Princess Leia’s recent passing (the indomitable Carrie Fisher) that finally got me thinking about death and its relationship with the term “rest in peace.”
Trending on any social media platform since news of her death spread on December 27th was the phrase “RIP Carrie Fisher.”
I don’t know Ms. Fisher nor have I ever met her. But I suspect she is not one to have ever advocated to “rest in peace.”
The term “rest in peace” is said to have originated from early Christians buried in the catacombs under the Latin phrase, dormit in pace, which translates in English to “sleeps in peace.” It signified that the individual “died in the peace of the Church united in Christ.” As author Harold Mytum has noted, “rest in peace” is a prayerful request of sorts that one’s soul can find a sense of peace in the afterlife.
Does Carrie Fisher really want to “rest in peace?”
For years Fisher was an advocate for mental health awareness. In part this advocacy came from her own bipolar diagnosis. I reckon the last thing she wanted was to “rest in peace” when it came to helping others and herself as it concerned mental health awareness. She once said: “I am mentally ill. I can say that. I am not ashamed of that. I survived that. I am still surviving it, but bring it on.”
Not only was she an advocate for mental health awareness, Fisher was a prolific writer. She was the author of seven books, perhaps the most popular and successful being Postcards From The Edge. It was this book along with a one-woman play and HBO special, Wishful Drinking, that brought her alcohol and drug addiction front and center for others to learn from. Does Fisher want to “rest in peace” knowing others continue to be haunted by such addiction?
I don’t know the answer to these questions I have posed for I am not related to or friends with Fisher. I am but a fan. Deeply saddened, but a fan nonetheless.
I have been thinking about the term RIP a lot over the past 24 hours. Were I to unfortunately die tomorrow, I do not want to “rest in peace.” I’m not vain enough to expect an “RIP Dan Pontefract” social media trend line but I will not place “rest in peace” on my tombstone or urn. I don’t want anyone to utter the words, “rest in peace Dan” either.
My writing is meant to be a call to action. The reason I write is to help others. The purpose of me speaking in public or facilitating education workshops is also to help others. While I am not Carrie Fisher, if I die tomorrow I wish for my work to continue helping others in print, digital, online or video formats.
For all her faults and demons Fisher was helping others. Through her writing, advocacy and other contributions she was making the world a better place.
Fisher started out as a fictitious role model for me when Princess Leia first crossed the screen in 1977. I was only six years old.
But, as I matured and became an adult, I followed her serious (and comedic) career with keen interest. She struck me as someone who not only played to her strengths, she publicly exposed her weaknesses to help others. (Rent the HBO special Wishful Drinking if you want a glimpse.)
Because of Fisher’s untimely death, upon reflection I think I have learned to not rest in peace. Fisher has left an indelible mark on our society. While I still aim to contribute more in terms of books, articles and talks, I do not want to rest in peace upon my death.
While my body will inevitably break down one day I do not want my body of work to follow the same fate.
Rest in peace?
No. I don’t ever want to rest in peace.
My wish is for my work to help others long after I am gone.
I’ll miss you Carrie Fisher. Thank you for everything you have accomplished. My children will come to know your writing in due course.
You won’t have to rest in peace. You can be as educating and acerbic as ever.