About Death

Why do we talk about death? Isn’t it one of the most dreadful things any human would try their best to refrain themselves from thinking about?

I would like to dive deeper about Death, as for me, it is one thing that is truly equal. Because at the end of the day, the one common thing any living creature shares is that Death welcomes us all.

What is Death?

image of man looking beyond the horizon

Simply put, Death is the permanent cessation of all biological functions that sustain a living organism. The remains of a living organism begin to decompose shortly after death. It is an inevitable process eventually occurring in all living organisms. Biologically, the commonplace notion of death is to characterise it as an end state: being dead. Nevertheless being dead is not the same as the event of death or the dying process, the absolute state of being dead is synonymous with the idea of medical death. (Scarre 2007, p.5).

Interestingly, as the modern world evolves, you can have a Social Death, where a relational or narrative change in the meaning of a human life. It involves a change in the narrative identity of persons that either still exist or have once existed. More specific, the death of ‘what I am’ (idem) is inextricably linked to being able to self-configure the story of one’s life. In short, the physical end of ‘what I am’ as a living person spells a particular kind of social death: the autobiographical death of one’s narrative identity.

In my current context, I’ll only refer to the biological death and its positive impact, once a person can accept that the very existence of Death indicates how precious Life is. I believe, Death is not something we should be scared of, but should be embraced.

What’s wrong with Dying?

Writer and psychologist Lesley Hazleton gave a great speech about “What’s wrong with Dying?” at a TEDxSeattle, where she walked us through an existential type of question that we should think about, at least from time to time, to reassess how our lives have been so far, and whether it makes any different if we are to be dead, right now. Or what life would be like, if we ever lived on forever?

[From TEDx] A frequent TED.com speaker and ‘Accidental Theologist,’ Hazleton uses wit and wisdom to challenge our ideas not only about death, but about what it is to live well.

I particularly agreed with this part of her speech:

Endlessness would suck the vitality out of existence, eviscerate it of meaning. It would leave us with that sense of tedium and pointlessness that’s the hallmark of chronic depression.

So the last thing I’d ever want is to never die. I have zero desire to live forever, because immortality is not something devoutly to be wished for, on the contrary: it’s a curse.

So, my mortality does not negate meaning, it creates meaning. It’s what wakes me up to life. It’s what says, “Appreciate it! Don’t take it for granted! Write the next book! Laugh with your friends! Go explore! Eat another dozen oysters!” Because it’s not how long I live that matters; it’s how I live, and I intend to do it well – to the end.

This is the part where I realize, some people are afraid of Death, because they are so in love with Life. There are still so many things to hang on to, to create, to contribute, to enjoy, to leave behind a legacy, a name that can continue to live on forever.

At the same time, this is all the more reason why we can think about Death as a motivation to live better, not longer. Live a life with such depth and profound colors, that when your life is flashing by, you can really smile about it.

Here is another insightful video about death, or more specifically the way people used to take care of their loved ones’ corpses at home wakes, by the mortician Caitlin Doughty. She talked about the corpses that changed her life, the notion she wanted to change when we talk about death, and how we should embrace a more intimate, meaningful relationship with death.

[From Tedx] Caitlin Doughty is a licensed mortician and death acceptance advocate. She is founder of the nonprofit The Order of the Good Death, author of the bestselling book Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, and recently opened her first funeral home, Undertaking LA.

Someday you’re going to lose someone you love whether it’s your own mother, your partner, or even a child, and the choice you’re going to make is going to be entirely your own, but I do hope you consider being involved…it changes the tenor of their grief. There is a gorgeous reality when you allow yourself to be closer to death. Our ancestors knew that, and it’s time for us to rediscover it.

If you ask me why I suddenly think about death, exploring more about how people deal with death and their mortality, how about people who still are grieving their loved ones’ death where a precious life is cut short…?

Personally, thinking about Death and grieving it, are two different things. You can think about Death as something so normal, as long as you breathe, there will be a day when you take your last breath. It should be something that you know for sure and know so well, that it will make you realize, everything has an expiry date and so what are we going to do about our “valid duration of existence”? How are we going to make the most out of that duration, so that Death is nothing but a celebration for a life well-lived?

Why should I embrace the notion of Death?

You only have a handful of chances, until you die

He is terribly afraid of dying because he hasn’t yet lived.

Franz Kafka

If you search for “things people regret before they die”, you will find so many regrets that are hearth-breaking and thought-provoking. The most common regrets, in really succinct version are:

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I hadn’t worked so much.
  3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Have you ever been in these situations? Where you have dreams and aspirations, but you restricted yourself, because that’s not what your family wanted?

Have you ever worked so hard, your teenage children don’t really have any emotions towards you, although in your mind, “you did it for them”?

Have you ever beaten yourself up, by not saying and expressing your true heart to the own you loved? Or have you ever spoken your own mind and stood up for the things you believe are right?

Are you feeling content with how your life has been so far? Are all the choices and decisions, lead you to where you wanted to be, or are you just getting by?

There are so many things happening around us with all the obligations, all the so-called responsibilities that come with life that we sometimes forget that at the end of the day, only a few of them are worth our time and effort. Only a few of those things that we bleed for, actually amount up to something that we don’t regret doing. And if this was the moment you’d die, what would be the first thing run through your mind?

If you treat your mortality a bit more seriously, and don’t take Death for granted, you will realize you always have choices. You can choose to live your life, as how you were supposed to be born. I don’t believe we are born to suffer and then we die. I believe we are born, so that we can experience both good things and bad things, yet we still choose the good parts, so that when our times come, we can smile and laugh about what a life it has been.

A fantastic and out-of-this-world type of experience is not the only kind of life we need to strive for. A simple life, yet fulfilling to your own definition, is the best kind of life.

Death is a normal state just as normal as birth

Don’t look down on death, but welcome it. It to is one of the things required by nature. Like youth and old age. Like growth and maturity. Like a new set of teeth, a beard, the first gray hair. Like sex and pregnancy and childbirth. Like all the other physical changes at each stage of life, our dissolutions is no different.

Marcus Aurelius – Roman Stoic philosopher

At the point of writing this post, Covid-19 is still very active. Across the world, every day there are still devastating cases of lives cut short so soon. There has been 1,096,876 deaths reported up until October 15, 2020, 02:41 GMT.

It seems Covid-19 makes us think about our mortality, yet our brains aren’t designed for that. This is very normal in humans, we don’t specifically think about death as much as we think about what we’re going to eat for dinner. “To function as a conscious being, it’s imperative that you be in denial about your impending death. How else would you go about the mundane aspects of your daily life — cleaning the gutters, paying the bills, sitting in traffic — if you were constantly aware of the inevitability of your own death?”

We consciously avoid thinking about mortality, because we are not very well-equipped or even taught properly about how life and death are two sides of the same coin of all living creatures. We are wired to accept that death happens — just not to us or to people that are closed to us. However, if we can embrace the notion of death, or to be more precise, our own mortality as something as natural as breathing, we may find more peace and may even continue moving forward instead of dwelling in grief grief to such a toxic extent.

In order to live a fulfilled life, the first step we can do is to appreciate the fact that some day, we shall perish, and even our loved ones are not exceptions; yet we shall not let that fact shadow our presents together. When we accept the shortness of life, and the inevitable end of it, we can better appreciate not just life itself, but also to make the most out of this while we still can.

When we remind ourselves that death comes to us all, everyday passes by will have a different meaning. The things we normally do or endure, will leave us more afterthoughts: do we want to spend our time and effort on something that may not mean that much to us, when we face our last moments?

How do I fully embrace my Mortality?

I don’t remember how or when I started to think about “what happens when my life span ends?” or “why some people are so scared of death?” or “what is so special about death?”, but I guess it started when a friend of mine got into an accident when he traveled solo in Thailand. For about 2 weeks, no one of us could contact him. We were worried, but we also thought he took “social media disconnection” very seriously. Until one day he reached out and let us know that he was hospitalized for almost a month.

Half of his body was paralyzed, he couldn’t fully remember what happened to him during that time, asides from knowing that the host where he stayed, contacted his family to come and bring him home. At that point of time, it suddenly dawned to me that this thing can happen to anyone, and look how close it has come to my circle.

One of my cousins who lived in US, had passed on due to suicide, yet when I heard the news, to me it was sad and disheartening, but since I’m not emotional invested in my cousins, I felt sorry for his parents more than scared of how fleeting life was. Yet, when I heard the news about my friend’s accident, something told me – “this could happen any time now, the more years you live, the higher probability this will happen to you”. So I slowly made arrangements, so that I can be more assured about life and can definitely move on without me in it.

Hospitalization and life insurance

This is something I never thought I would do, to be honest. But, where I’m staying – the medical fee is hefty and without insurance, you’d be in a lot of headache over financial obligations. So I signed up for hospitalization so in case I get into trouble, the hospital fee won’t make me think “I’d better die”.

Life insurance is a different and optional thing. For me it is something that may benefit my direct family in the worst case scenario. It won’t bring me back for sure, but a sum can still guarantee my family members can get by for a while. It would also need an additional follow-up on how they should utilize it but that’s gonna be the story for another day.

After having these two things in place, it gives me comfort knowing that if worse comes to worst, those who are left behind won’t have to cripple with debts, and in returns, I have more peace of mind when it comes to terms with my own mortality, as I know I won’t be a burden to my family.

Read About Death

When we are afraid, or worried about something, most of the time it is due to the uncertain aspect of it, or because we don’t understand or know very much about the topic. Reading articles and books on death can help expand our minds and hearts on this sensitive topic, as well as give you a glimpse on how others deal with death. Reading and research more about dying, death, and accepting the inevitable, will help us grieve, learn to move forward, or even prepare for death in our own way.

One of the books that introduced me to death is the marvelous “Le Petit Prince“, when he let himself bitten by a snake, so that he can go back to his planet and return to his lovely rose.

His choice of “moving on” is the first time that I learned about the how someone can choose to leave their physical form, to go somewhere else. And by passing on, it means he no longer lives in the same place as us, as the writer. But although he is no longer on Earth, he is still alive in the heart of the writer.

Someone you love, one day they may pass on, but they can still live in your heart, and all the memories can still be kept safely.

Talk with the Bereaved

Reaching out to the people or community who support the bereaved families. They have firsthand experience and knowledge about the end-of-life process, and they can help paint a picture of what it is like to be with someone who approaches their last days.

It can be extremely painful for people to talk about the death of their loved ones, so listen to others’ experiences with death with an open, empathetic heart, and know that death isn’t something to fear. Talking about it, can also help the bereaved process their grief and embrace their own mortality.

There is no telling of how things can go – as absurd as it sounds, for me, death brings so much relief, knowing that one day, all these shall pass. I want to strive to live as best as I can, so that dying, whether it happens today, tomorrow or 50 years from now, it won’t change how much we have dedicated to live the fullest life possible.

Further reading

Read more about the discussion of Death in different aspects:

  1. How the Unrelenting Threat of Death Shapes Our Behavior – The Atlantic
  2. Why I hope to die at 75 – Ezekiel J. Emanuel
  3. Facts to Calm Your Fear of Death and Dying – Ralph Lewis M.D.
  4. Beyond Life and Death: Nietzsche’s Thanatology – Essay by Changhyun Kim
  5. Dying At The Right Time – Morgan Rempel
  6. Embrace Death… You’re Not Getting Out Of It Alive – Zenpowerment- Randy Scott
  7. Why Accepting Death Will Make You Worry Less – Gustavo Razzetti
  8. How to Embrace Death to Embrace Life – Kate Hartley
  9. Embracing Mortality and the Key to Living with Presence – Marcus Aurelius
  10. We all know that we will die, so why do we struggle to believe it? – James Baillie

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