And Facing The Fear of Death
o one knows the day or hour of one’s death. The darkness and the unknown is what makes the thought so frightening.
Maybe death will come suddenly. Maybe death will be a slow decline. I don’t know the moment and I don’t know the hour, but I do know that death is the destination of all that is born.
I think about death because I like to be prepared. I prepared for exams, I prepared for presentations, I prepare for projects and jobs, I prepare for retirement, and I like to think that I can prepare for death.
The shadow of death engulfed my world into darkness in the year of 2007. In that unfortunate year I lost 3 very dear people (my own age) to sudden and unrelated tragic deaths, separated by only some months. First, I lost my best friend to cancer. Before I had a chance to recover, my boyfriend was killed in an accident. And only some months later my brother, to whom I was very close, also left this world as swiftly as the last breath.
These deaths and accidents left me shattered. To say that I have died with these 18-20 year olds, would be an understatement. For the next 10 years I lived under a sombre shadow. I stopped creating and I stopped dreaming. I saw no meaning and no purpose in a world that ends abruptly and for no just reason.
Eventually the black shadow turned grey. I started to see glimpses of sunlight through the low hanging clouds. And only now, 13 years later, the thought of death, while still a constant companion, is also a strange kind of friend.
For me, death is mostly not a frightening thought anymore, probably because I think about it often. Too often. Familiarity has worn away the fear and the mystery. That which is familiar tends to scare us less. Now, the thought of death makes me appreciate life. A reminder to savour every moment.
Once in a while though, I feel sadness. It is a sort of loss that I can’t describe. It is a deep regret, that all can be lost. It is regret of potential. When this sadness comes over me I try to think about how I’d feel in the hours and possibly days leading up to my last breath.
Birth and death are two most significant events in a life. In between there’s an opportunity to figure out why we are here and what is the purpose of it all.
I think about the meaning of life because I’d like a meaningful life. But when I look around — many things that I do, seem so meaningless when juxtaposed with the thought of death.
Wealth, fame, fortune… what does it all amount to? A car, a house, a job… those things don’t matter in the final hours. In a split second everything we’ve worked for can become meaningless and disappear.
These thoughts make me sad, and I wonder “why bother do anything at all?” What is the meaning of it all if everything one day is just GONE? It really is the journey that counts, because the destination for all of us is the same.
Looking back at my life, I wish the present self could reach out to my younger self and offer advice! Today, part of my reflection when I think about death, is trying to imagine and foresee the advice that my older self would have for my present self.
What would I tell myself to focus on? What would I tell myself to stop stressing about? What would I be proud of and what would I regret having wasted too much time on?
I used to cringe and hide at the thought of death, but now I watch documentaries with very old people who reflect on their life. I try to listen to what they have to say and imagine how I will feel in their shoes. Surprisingly, doing this has given me a sense of comfort and peace. Every decision I make, big and small, I try to make in face of death. We are all facing death, we just don’t always remember it. Realising it gives me power over my life and a surprising sense of peace.
It might feel sad and even scary at first, but the more I think about death, the less frightening the thought becomes.
It is true that we fear less that which is familiar. So maybe one way to prepare for death is to examine one’s life as it is being lived, remembering that this life is on loan and that one day the loan will expire.
The more I think about death, the less I fear myself. The thought of death gives me confidence and self-healing. If I can face my own mortality and accept it, what else is there to fear? I become a fearless being. Death is not the depressing part. The depressing part is that sometimes I forget and live my life as if I’m entitled to eternity. In this state it’s easy to treat each other like everything and everyone is dispensable, when in reality every planetary and human resource is precious and finite.
The thought of death makes me in general more calm and tolerant. It makes me treat myself and others with kindness and respect. It reminds me that I’m not entitled to anything and that everything I have is on loan.
Most importantly, contemplating death on a regular basis helps me understand the meaning of life. What is it all about? What is the purpose of it?
And the answer is love. Contemplating death can help us experience unconditional love. Once you start experiencing this love, the only real meaning of life is to BE that love.
There is so much suffering in this world, yet most of it is self-imposed because we are not in a state of love. Don’t be afraid to think about death. Through the sadness you’ll find a portal to an incredible kind of love that transcends all. Just like darkness is necessary for us to experience light, the thought of death, loss and sadness can teach us the meaning of life, which is ultimately to love.
When it comes time to die, I think that many come to face this unconditional love. Isn’t it better to learn to be in a state of love while you have life radiating inside of you?
When you contemplate death, the trick is not to dwell on the death itself, but to let the thoughts of loss lead you to a place of appreciation, gratitude and love for the present moment and all the beauty that it contains.