Death, Dying and Grief (#6)

If there exists one experience that, throughout history and around the world, binds humankind together, it is death. Death is something we must all face – no exercise or diet regimen, no meditation techniques, no amount of money can avoid it. It is the great equalizer.

Fear of death is no simple response with simple causes. It has many components and has a different reaction for each one of us. The fear of death is shaped by:

·      Age, Family, Psychological maturity, State of physical health, Social and religious backgrounds

Events of the day may also influence the degree of our fear. There is, however, one basic fear I choose to focus upon because I do not believe it is death for which we have greatest fear.

Based on my observation and analysis I believe greater than the fear of death is actually our fear of life. The finality of death, coupled with the uncertainty of an afterlife, results in fear, for many. We see it all around us as we try to stop the aging process. We hope that the next pill, the next surgery, or the next genetic discovery will be the key to extending our lives.

Think about it.
If we are alive, then death does not exist and we have no reason to be concerned about it. When we are dead, then we no longer exist and are unable to be concerned.

Death is the ultimate mystery. Death makes an excellent screen on which to project all our concern about life. I am contending that our fear of death is a projection of our most basic fear. Fear of death is really our fear of life. If our fears of death were rational, they would not prevent us from looking at the inevitability of our own deaths and learning about ourselves and our lives. But our fears of death are – for the most part – irrational. We run away from death but what we flee is our own life. Death is a problem because daily living is a problem.

I believe it is as simple as that. If it is not that simple, at least it is clear-cut. In recognizing those who flee death will also flee life, we have an opportunity to recognize the face of hope. For those who fully welcome life will welcome death as well. Norman O. Brown says only a person with an unlived life is afraid to die. A person who feels he has lived his life the way that he or she wanted – is not afraid. The fear of dying is tied to reach the goals of who you believe you have to be rather than who you are (Keleman, Living Your Dying, p. 102).

The truth is that those who are not fulfilling life are those who fear death and do not want to die. So, part of working out this conflict is to begin to construct those conditions in which we are able to accept the inevitability of death as a joyful conclusion to the experience of life.

1.    Let me point to some suggestions about how those conditions might be created; that is to say, how we can take our basic response to the crisis of death, which is a resounding NO, and transform that into a YES to death. Such a YES is a YES to life. All this is done with the recognition of what can be so easily said cannot be so easily accomplished.

One way to approach death creatively is to cultivate a delight in change. There is a line in the Old Testament that promises life to us new every morning. That sounds fine. But in reality who wants to deal with anything new in the morning? We want the security of our routine: orange juice, toast, cup of coffee, and the morning paper. Careening around the curves of this treacherous era, fearful of what accidents might happen or what new things might be around the corner, we clutch nostalgia as our savior. Novelty or surprise frightens us and we have developed all sorts of methods for ignoring or modifying an event so that we can maintain the status quo (which is Latin for “the mess we are in”). Unfamiliar events make us anxious. Consequently, you can understand what death – our own or someone else’s – does to us. Since death is the biggest change we have to deal with, (although many events in life have aspects of un-knowableness and mystery about them), we fear death most of all. We die and we face death in much the same way we live, with the fear we will, because of the change, suffer an irreplaceable loss. Since life is in process, we should be participating in life as it is. In such a way we shall be more fully alive.

[continued in blog #7]