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IN LOVE WITH DEATH – By @EvaMenovsky

IN LOVE WITH DEATH

I remember when my foster granddad knowingly spoke his last words to me. 

He said, “You were a pearl in my life, and never think we were anything less than family because even though we don’t share the same blood, you are my granddaughter.”

He struggled with 3 kinds of cancers for 8 years. During that time he never lost the hope of living, until he decided it was time. The Dutch doctors wouldn’t grant him euthanasia, so he stopped eating and drinking. He died within 3 days. 

I remember the last words my grandmother, who was like a father to me, had written in her diary.

“I finally feel after 70 years that I have processed the pain and guilt I feel from losing my parents. I am ready to die.”

One week later she passed away in her sleep, finally being ready to peacefully die, for which she had been preparing because she was a Jewish Buddhist that believed death was as much a part of life as life is. 

I remember hearing the endless attempted suicide stories of my foster grandmother, asking me if one day, if she wanted me to, I would end her life as she so desperately wished for it. I promised her that I love her and that I would do anything to make her happy.

There are about 15 more of these stories, close friends and family who’ve passed away or shared their beliefs about death. And they have all taught me what it means to be alive and what it means to be dead. It might be an intimidating subject for you, but we need to talk more about death. 

So if you are reading this right now, I’m asking you to write on a piece of paper your date of death. Everyone will at some point die, and it’s a fact that many of us don’t want to acknowledge. It’s valuable to think about when you might die, how much time you’ve got left to be aware that life does not go on forever. And that doesn’t have to be a sad thing. If everything would last forever, we wouldn’t get the most out of it, we wouldn’t fight for the career we want to have or find the right partner to have kids with, or even figure out who we are. 

If life would go on forever, it would be hella boring. Your beliefs about death are probably altered by whether you believe in an afterlife or what you think is going to happen after you die. Nevertheless, just because you can find comfort in heaven or hell, doesn’t mean you have to be scared of death. 

Socrates, for example, believed there were only two true possibilities, the first possibility would be a dreamless sleep and the second, a passage to another life. Socrates encourages you to spend your life looking after your mind, cultivating the part of you that you’ll get to keep forever if there is an afterlife. 

You might see death as a benefit because you won’t be troubled by bodily things. Either way, whether you would sleep forever or you would pass to another life, it is nothing to be afraid of.

Epicurus rejected the belief in an afterlife altogether, although he still didn’t find it scary. He said “We are just our bodies and nothing more. Death is the cessation of sensation. Good and evil only make sense in terms of sensations. So death is neither good nor evil. If you equal your body, then death is just nonexistent. And there is nothing to be afraid of because you won’t have any feelings when you don’t exist. Epicurus even argued that fearing nonexistence is not only stupid, but it gets in the way of enjoying life. Death can’t be bad for you at any time. Because once it arrives, you’re gone! The thing that eventually kills you? Yeah, that’s got to be bad for you before your death, but that’s not death.

Thomas Nagel points out that some people dread death because they’ll miss out on things that they want to experience. In which Nagel says “If you don’t feel some sort of deep sense of loss at what you missed before you were even alive, why should you feel loss what you’ll miss after you die?” Nagel does point out that “If you believe that life is essentially good, then there is something to mourn when a life is cut short. If you say that life is just always, inherently good, then you’ve placed a high value on the sanctity of life. The fact that they are alive is good, so losing it, would be bad. But if you think that the quality of life is more important then you’re going to want to distinguish between lives that are full of good experiences and those that aren’t. You would then believe some deaths might actually be positive or valuable, like, if they bring about an end to a terrible, painful existence. It might make sense to be afraid of death itself because the process of dying can be painful and drawn out and involve saying a lot of difficult good-byes. But death itself doesn’t have to be scary.”

What about the death of others, is it equally silly to fear the death of the people you love?

Some philosophers argue that it is probably silly because what you’re fearing isn’t actually death—what you’re fearing is feeling left behind and alone, when a loved one dies. 

Zhuangzi, a Chinese philosopher, said there is no reason to fear the death of your loved ones. “Why would you fear the inevitable? We know that death is going to happen to everyone, and we also know that it’s a part of the life cycle. We don’t see any other part of that cycle as being bad.” Death according to Zhuangzi is just one more change — why treat it differently? “You should celebrate the death of a loved one just as you celebrated every other life change that they’ve experienced. You should think of their death as a going-away party for a grand journey.” He even argued that mourning of the death is selfish, the last thing you should do is hold them closer, when it’s time for them to move on. 

Jiddu Krishnamurti, an Indian philosopher, said “Most of us are frightened of dying because we do not know what it means to live. We don’t know how to live, therefore we don’t know how to die. As long as we are frightened of life, we shall be frightened of death. The man who is not frightened of life is not frightened of being completely insecure, for he understands that inwardly, psychologically, there is no security. When there is no such security, there is an endless movement and then life and death are the same. If you die to everything you know, including your family, your memory, everything you have felt, then death is a purification, a rejuvenating process; then death brings innocence and it is only the innocent who are passionate, not the people who believe or who want to find out what happens after death. To find out actually what takes when you die, you must die… not physically but psychologically, inwardly, die to things that you have cherished and to the things you are bitter about. To die is to have a mind that is completely empty of itself, empty of its daily longing, pleasure and agonies. Death is a renewal, a mutation, in which thought does not function at all because thought is old. When there is death, there is something totally new, freedom from the known is death, and then you are living. Without death there is no renewing, without death there is no creation.” 

What Krishnamurti explains, is that we all carry psychological baggage, which we should lose. The moment we lose that, we die psychologically. We are free of our bodily and emotional pain, of the burden of our past and we could really live, for we are not afraid of death. 

It’s good to know how different philosophers view death so you can make up your mind about what you think death might feel like, what would happen after we die and how we can be less afraid of dying. Once you’ve figured that out, you will feel more in control of not only your death but also your life. There is nothing scary about dying; life is far scarier than death. I for one am looking forward to dying. That doesn’t mean to stop living now, it means getting the most out of life by being okay with dying.

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