The final frontier.
Buying the ranch.
The Grim Reaper.
Kicking the bucket.
Death goes by many names. And it can bring chills when we ponder its mystery – and inevitability. We spend a good chunk of our lives wondering about it, trying to hold it back through medication, exercise, colon cleanses, surgery. Yet, we must face the inevitable truth that, some unheralded day, we will pass through its unavoidable eye.
So, if it’s inescapable – the obligatory end to all physical life – why do we fear it almost unanimously? It’s mostly inocuous to those who still remain here (save, say, any legal and financial matters that may ensue) – yet we stress about it to the point that we’re afraid to live.
So, in an attempt to reflect on this objectively, what, in essence, is so bad about passing on?
As I see it, the worst part of death is the sorrow we who stay behind feel.
Consider this statement.
What’s worst about death, at least the way most of the western world sees it, isn’t going away to who-knows-where, missing any remaining chances, nor not waking up and smelling the coffee again – though I’ll miss my morning brew when my time comes! The crux of the issue really boils down to what we feel – usually some form of fear – when we experience it through someone close. They die, we feel bad.
So, in this line of thinking, can this mean that, if we take out the sorrow we feel when someone dear is gone, death isn’t really all that bad?
A bold statement that flies in the face of convention (but when was convention infallible?).
So let’s stop and think about this: what’s there to fear of death, if we know that it is inevitable for all of us? Why do we fear something that is as part of life as life itself?
It would be very similar to fearing to be born.
In the womb, you get used to what you know. That dark, cozy place where you’re protected and fed continuously, being asked nothing in return becomes your baseline for what existence is. You take it for granted that life is this way – the known, your experience. At some point, some uncomfortable pressure builds, a tunnel of light opens up (usually the light in a hospital room), and you feel you’re being squeezed through into a different reality.
Isn’t this eerily similar to what some have described as death?
You are where you are used to being – you call this “life”. Then, suddenly, experience gets shaken, you begin to perceive something unknown, some are quoted as perceiving a tunnel of light, and you begin to get pulled into a different reality.
Yet, at birth you don’t dig your nails into the womb and the safety of mother, crying out terrified that you’re “dying”. Painful and frightening as it may be, you go through the process of passing from one comfy, known reality into another, looming and unknown – and arrive in this world, alive and kicking.
Both of these are events that all of us, without exception, must and will live to experience. It’s a transition between two states, neither of which we can be certain of nor control. Yet, our body is born. We’ve already experienced that one, and here we are. Then, the body dies. Yet we complain when either happens – especially when we think the latter may be coming close. But how we feel about it has no say in the matter, whatsoever.
It’s going to happen, like it or not.
Taking this further, nobody I know has come back to complain about it. If anything, most who do claim to have been there and returned report experiencing a sublimated state – much more at peace than they had been on Earth. Some did not want to come back.
So, we could go to extremes and say that this sense of perceived loss when someone close departs is the ONLY “bad” thing about death. Well, perhaps excluding any pain and fear in the process of getting dead. And even then, though we can’t be sure that things will be any better after the fact, we can’t say it will be any worse, either. But the real – and usually lasting – pain of death is what we who stay behind feel when someone to whom we’ve felt some attachment passes on.
And, consider this statement, too. It doesn’t say “someone we love” – rather, someone we’re attached to.
Love is unattached; it accepts and lets go.
Fear grips tight; it fights change.
Which makes one think… do I really love so-and-so? Am I attached? And, in many cases, the answer may well be a yes – to both.
But can we be attached and love at the same time?
That’s a topic for another post.
In the mean-time, think back to what you’ve felt when someone close has passed:
Did your (probably unconsciously) chosen suffering make your life any better, overall?
Is the departed any happier or “saved” because you cried and writhed in pain in their absence?
Probably no, to both.
Conversely, could your experience of that perceived loss have stung a little less, had you detached from it? Could you instead have accepted their departure as something that could not have happened any other way, let go, and celebrated their life, turning pain into clarity, and embodying the lessons they left for you?
And further, could you apply this non-attachment to your own time of flight, when the tingling sensation starts to overcome, foreshadowing that impending, irreversible transition?
A tall order, it seems.
Granted, we must go through the motions of letting go of our departed – ideally, sooner than later. Fortunately, this mourning process can be made shorter and less intense through awareness and grief-healing protocols.
So how we choose to deal with the whole issue of what we call death, my friend, is a matter of choice. Bodily death – yours and otherwise – like any situation we encounter, is what you choose to make of it, consciously or unconsciously.
So, why be so afraid to go that inevitable way, when no-one’s returned for a refund? When you’re less afraid to die, don’t you think you’ll be a little less afraid to live?
It’s your choice.
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More than death, I fear growing old. I know it’s inevitable, like it’s bigger brother death. I think of actors who are reminded of their youth regularly and how they deal with aging. I see signs of aging in the mirror, at the gym, on the basketball court. My greatest fear, as it relates to aging, is financial security.
True that, Alex. We’ll either grow old or die young. And the prospect of living “old” can be intimidating. I’ll think about this one. Thanks for writing!