Occasionally I am startled by the thought that one day I will die. Perhaps I will go to sleep one night and just not wake up. Perhaps I will be gripped by the searing pain of my heart stopping and it will not restart… Perhaps I will be stabbed or shot and watch the red life force draining out of me… Perhaps I will be weakened by illness until I fade away… Perhaps I will slip and fall from a great hight or perhaps the last thing I will see will be the headlights of the car that crashes into me… The only sure thing is that I will one day, actually, die. Expire. End. Be no more. Cease to exist.
It is not a thought I dwell on. But every once in a while, the brutal reality that all I know and am will come to an end, consumes me for a few anxious seconds. I like being alive. I don’t want it to end.
Perhaps I am not supposed to admit that; being a person of spiritual convictions, but I am human, I have doubts and uncertainties. I believe in reincarnation. I believe there will be some form of progression for my soul. It makes sense to me. But believing is not quite the same as “knowing”. There is a part of me which allows for the possibility that this life really is all there is; and one day, it will end. I don’t particularly like that idea. I am sure there will always be more things I want t do…
But there are worse things than death. For some (perhaps in the end for most of us) death can be a blessing. Suffering comes in many forms and death is certainly preferable to some of those. And I know that sometimes mere existence is not rewarding, it can perhaps be the greatest torture of all.
Over the past few years I have had to watch my mother confront and succumb to early onset dementia. If I ever have to suffer the same thing I hope I can do so with as much courage and dignity as she has. I can barely comprehend the fear and horror she had to live with in the early years of the illness when she was aware that she was going to lose her mind; to lose herself before she died. And now that has more or less happened. When she dies it will be a gut wrenching personal tragedy for me; a loss which will be almost impossible to bare, one I am anticipating but will never be ready for. And yet, for her, I believe death will come as a friend.
Perhaps the truth is that death is always hardest for those left behind; for those who have to suffer the loss.
I don’t know if those occasional moments of panic about my own death will ever go away but the lesson it teaches me is to value life all the more while I have it. That does not mean avoiding all possible risks to my health and mortality. I’ll still run where I could walk, I’ll still fly in aeroplanes, I’ll still ski, I’ll still climb impossible mountains, I’ll still drink and smoke and indulge my senses. I’ll still take risks. I’ll go on learning and experimenting.
I hope death doesn’t catch up with me until I’m old and perhaps ready… But when it does come I want death to be impressed by the amount I have managed to pack into my life. Perhaps then we will walk into the next adventure as friends.
Fear of death probably hits us all sometimes. But we can chose to transmute that fear and use it as a spur. The real danger is that we not living fully enough.