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One day, you’re gonna die.
Let’s talk about it.
by Teri Halliwell
We don’t live forever.
And people don’t like to talk about death. That may be because they’re young and have a sense of immortality, scared of the unknown, fear of experiencing their consciousness descending into a black abyss of nothingness, leaving your loved ones behind or having regrets.
Society is structured around removing the dead as quickly as possible from the living. It is a topic often highlighted as macabre with a negative connotation, even though death is as natural as birth and is one thing – probably the only thing – we know it’s gonna happen for sure to all of us.
Even morticians make the dead look like an elegant wax model replica of their erstwhile living selves. Attendance of children at funerals and cemeteries is generally not encouraged, adding to the sense of dreaded unfamiliarity with death.
So why we choose to distance ourselves from the inevitable? Why we chose to close our eyes in front of a perfectly natural event and learn how to fear death and not embrace it?
For the person who is dying
Ralph Lewis, a psychiatrist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, Canada, says our fear of dying has been generated and cultivated throughout the years of human history based on how we imagine death to be; thus, from the view of unrealistic, unfounded fears.
Let's deal first with our fear of a painful death
We are all afraid of pain.
Physical pain arises from damage to our living tissue. Since death is the ultimate destruction of our living tissues, we naturally assume that death must be the ultimately painful experience. Since nobody who has actually died can tell us what it felt like physically, we naturally have a terror of dying.
But from a medical point of view, there is no particular reason to suppose that the intensity of pain from various causes of death is greater than the intensity of pain from various illnesses and injuries, or the pain that others have experienced and survived to tell the tale. “Life hurts more that death…At the point of death, the pain is over.”
The process of our existence ending and our consciousness being aware of it is also part of these unfounded fears.
Medically we are ceased, extinguished, kaput. Being dead will not feel like anything—no more so than we felt, say, a year before we were born. There simply will be no us to do the feeling; Dr. Lewis says here that it can be hard for us egotistical creatures to imagine that the world exists independently and continue to do so after we die and we won’t be there to continue experiencing it.
And for a good reason; we have memory of being alive, of experiencing life and our whole lives are shaped around this concept; we cannot perceive that death will end all of this because our consciousness is programmed to live and not to die. So our consciousness is scared that death will take this control away.
But wait. We have actually felt how it is to drift away and losing control. When we fall asleep or when we go under anesthesia. Unless we have partial awareness, like dreaming, dying is no different than falling asleep, only this time you never wake up.
For the person who watches someone else dying
Emotionally and physically, it can take a toll especially if you are watching your loved one wither away.
Depending on the cause of death, the age of the person, the fatality of the situation, acceptance is challenging. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help in order to cope with your emotions.
We are emotional beings and it is only normal for these emotions to overtake us; as normal as it is to die; if we take a look around us, we know that life is not fair, it’s not perfect and not only happy – but also not only sad.
No matter what our religious beliefs are, we strive to find meaning of what is the purpose of life, what is the meaning of us being here on Earth, still, while others have departed early or abruptly or even just on time and we are left grieving and with so many questions.
While in philosophy and religion, we may find some of these answers to our questions, medicine says having a clearer understanding of what dying looks like can help us face our own death or the death of a loved one when the time comes. And having an idea of what’s to come can make us more capable caregivers as we comfort a loved one who’s dying.
If you live well, then you can die well.
Life asked Death, “Death, why do people love me, but hate you?”
Death responded, “Because you are a beautiful lie and I am the painful truth.”
Teri Halliwell earned her undergraduate degree in Journalism from The American College of Greece, and her Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of San Francisco. Teri is an inventive storyteller with a passion for moving audiences to action through her writing. She is a member of the International Association of Professional Writers and Editors, and is a popular host with The Power of the Patient Project. She is also a member of the editorial staff of our online magazine, Today's Patient, where she writes insightful articles on patient-centered health and wellness.
November 2022 page 6