How Gord Downie is teaching us to “die well”
August 25, 2016
By: Julie Hughes

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past three months, you’ve probably heard of the terminal cancer diagnosis of Gord Downie (lead singer to the Tragically Hip, also known as The Hip).

This tragic story has been unfolding on a national scale in Canada, since news came out. The Hip have miraculously managed to undertake and complete their final and most explosive cross-country tour, in spite of all of this. Or rather perhaps because of all of this.

Illusions-of-someday-400Gord is teaching us a lot about what it means to rise above your life’s circumstances and to own life’s curve balls rather than succumb to them. Even if those very curve balls are the ones that inevitably terminate our time on this earth.

It’s no secret that we live in a death-phobic culture. We are bombarded with messages of eternal youth, beauty, and the anti-aging machine that has fueled the advertising world and feeds our innermost fears and insecurities.

What is it about death that terrifies us so much? The great unknown, the fear of pain, the sadness of leaving those we love, the total and utter lack of control we have over it all…?

The beauty and the sorrow in what Gord Downie and The Hip are teaching us is that it’s OK to face our death, our pain, even our magnitude and our power. Gord has not shied away from his diagnosis of terminal cancer, in fact some would say he has embraced it.

There’s no denial here. He is fully aware that this is his last chance to shine and to give his fans the exit both he and they deserve. His bravery and courage don’t mean he is invulnerable to the pain either.

In watching their last show in Kingston, I was glued to the TV screen during one of the band’s encores when he sang the song “Grace Too.” The cameras were zoomed in on his face and he was letting us in (without words) to the sheer magnitude of his pain, sorrow, anger, fear, and ultimate vulnerability.  He was exposed and I thought it was beautiful.

It was beautiful because without using words, he was conveying human frailty, the pain that connects us all, and in that, the beauty of our shared experience. We are not alone. He is not alone. Death is not the enemy. It’s OK. It’s all OK.

Gord, in his own way, is allowing us to breathe and to cry and to mourn and to celebrate and to feel pure joy and live in the moment with him, to feel grateful for all of it. After all, there is no dress rehearsal, this is our life. So how do we want to live it?