My obsession lately has been death, but death has been in my thoughts since the time I was a little kid. I was raised in a religion that talked constantly about what happened after we die and about Jesus returning any minute. Not everyone in my faith was obsessed with death, but I will never understand how they couldn’t be. My first relationship with death was one of great fear. Not fear of not existing anymore, like a normal person. My fear was of being separated from my family, but primarily of being tortured for all eternity. I feared death so much I literally wished I had never been born. Why enter this world and take that chance?
Our society’s relationship with death is an interesting one. Most of us walk through life in denial. We are so afraid of death that we subconsciously fight against it while consciously refusing to think about it. We are obsessed with youth. We will do anything to remain youthful in appearance, denying the fact that every day is one day closer to the grave. I said in an earlier post I think the aging process is designed to gently remind us, for better or for worse, we will not live in these bodies for an eternity. Yet we fight it. We scratch and claw. Anything to avoid death. Anything to avoid even thinking about it. Meanwhile, all around us things die every day. Relationships pass. Us parents have our children and we want to keep them little forever. Anyone who has had a child graduate from high school has felt a little death. That baby you held is gone. That toddler that held your hand is gone. That kid you took to all those swim practices is on her own, no longer living under your roof. You look at baby pictures and you mourn the loss of that kid because she is no longer with us.
Then, it happens. Something snaps you out of the denial most of us live in. You lose a parent. You lose a spouse. God forbid, you lose a child. Bam! Death is at your door. You always knew this day would come, but not today. Now you have to face death. Death has gone from a distant, unwanted thought that you escorted out every time it dared to cross the threshold of your life into front and center. Death has busted down the door and is all up in your face.
That’s when death becomes everything. That’s when you start to realize your whole life has been the end of one thing, followed by the beginning of something else. That’s when you face the fact that as much as we try to hold onto people and things, we cannot hold on to either. You see all the metaphorical deaths you’ve experienced- high school graduation, leaving your parents’ home, losing a job, changing cities, etc. And you realize that literal death is going to come for us all. But, meanwhile if you’re the one who lives, those around will one day leave you. You stop holding onto things so tightly because you see the futility in it.
This can be an ugly realization for those who have successfully denied the mortality of all things. Buddhists actually contemplate their own mortality and impermanence as part of their spiritual practice. This takes the sting out of death for them. This prepares them to let go of the good as well as the bad because both pass. When good times are with us, we should embrace them and enjoy them because they are fleeting. When bad times are with us, we should endure them patiently because nothing lasts forever- not even death.
You see when you finally turn to face death, you realize that death isn’t everything. It’s not the final end to it all. Death is nothing. Just as every metaphorical death in your life led to the beginning of something else, death- physical death, is just the beginning of the next life. Death is no-thing. Paul was write when he wrote “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy sting?” Oh, for us living, death has a major sting. But, I truly believe that for the dead, most of them say “That’s what I was scared of?” Death is like waking up from a dream. Better yet. It’s like waking up from a nightmare and finding yourself safe in your own bed in your home. I believe the dead have access to us, participate in our lives and patiently wait for the day when we go home to be with them. They try to tell us “I’m right here. It’s going to be all right. It won’t be that long.” But, we can’t hear them. So we mourn while they party.
For me, my relationship with death has turned 180 degrees. I no longer fear death. Death is a passage. Death, once we’ve completed our goal in coming into this incarnation, is a graduation. And after the graduation is a graduation party.