Death, only five letters but it’s a big word. Gigantic. It makes many of us uncomfortable to even talk about it, much less encounter it or interact with someone who has either lost someone or is terminally ill themselves.
Death is that big river that will take us all out to sea one day.
We live in a culture which values youth and vitality and chooses to stick the deathly sick somewhere unseen and unheard.
My aunt passed away yesterday of lung cancer. My mother the same five years ago.
Why do people smoke? It blows my mind.
How can you start a habit that you know is highly addictive and if you get hooked will likely cut your life short a couple of decades, and after a couple of weeks has no pleasurable effects anyway? But they start up the nasty habit when they’re young, when death is (at least it seems) far away. You never see someone in their 70’s start puffing away, although it makes more sense than a 16 year-old. By that time you might as well, start shooting heroin too, why not?
You’re going to die in 10 to 20 years anyway.
Might as well enjoy yourself while you’re still planted on this spinning rock hurtling through endless space. Might as well feel good for a change instead of the usual misery and disappointment.
When someone you know passes the first thing you want to do is share the news with someone. It’s kinda odd that way. An individual looks for consolation, sympathy. Problem is it weirds other people out. Especially me. I never know what to say.
This is what usually comes out.
“You’re in my prayers.” (which is a lie because I’m a Humanist)
“My thoughts are with you and your family.” (which also is somewhat a lie because I want to get such depressing thoughts out of my mind as quickly as possible)
These incidents always make me feel awkward and embarrassed. I catch myself mumbling something I think is consoling but is mostly cliche.
For a writer I’m horrible inarticulate at such moments. I probably make people feel worse.
When I found out about my aunt, even though we were far from being “close”, I immediately looked for someone to tell. I wanted attention from it.
The other problem with that is people are willing to comfort you for a little while but they move on and you’re still grieving. You get attached to the pity. Sad but true. Some people never get over it because they want to be the grand marshall of their one-man pity parade. In a morbid sense they’re in the spotlight.
On another note. Buddhist monks used to meditate in cemetaries amid rotting corpses and skulls and carrion and all sorts of nasty bits and pieces of flesh. This enabled them to get through their attachment to this temporal life, to their own flesh that will one day be ravaged by time and disease and decay.
It is tradition to sit with the corpse of a loved one for a couple of days before buriel, something unheard of in the West. Their approach to death is not one of squeamishness and thus their appreciation for life is greatly increased.
Next time you see an elderly person slowly hobbling down the street, take a moment to reflect on your own life and how you and I are both headed to the same fate.
If we’re lucky, we’ll live to be that old.
Death is creepy, but it doesn’t have to be scary. It can teach us to live fuller, love deeper, and appreciate each and every one of our days.
Times like this I turn to the philosoher Issac Brock who reminds us.
“We’ll all float on, okay, and we’ll all float on, anyway.”