I’m not afraid of death – I’d just rather not be there when it happens – Woody Allen
Yes I’m dying. I was dying from the day I was born. Life is a gradual process of decay. From the minute we are born we embark on the journey to death. This simple fact seems to terrify some and societies spend time and resources attempting to evade this fundamental truth. We push the old into homes so we don’t have to view their wrinkled bodies: a constant reminder of what we will become. Others cannot say the word death or died – the truth is too hard to face. Better to say ‘passed’, ‘going to sleep’ or ‘gone home’. When I die please just tell people I’m dead. I’m not passing to anyway and going to sleep makes me sound lazy.
I watched my father die. It was as if a piece of clockwork gradually wound down and stopped. This experience changed my life. It put me in touch with my own mortality in a way that I had never had to deal with before. My grandmother died at the age of 101. I heard that, steadily, she wished to be left alone. She refused food. She had just had enough. She was tired. I want to die like this. When the time comes I believe I will be ready. I adore life and this world, but I believe a time will come when I will feel tired of it all and I will want to stop. I’m nervous but not scared. I lost my fear when I realised that death was an absolute ending. There is nothing else. It is a returning from whence I came – non-existence.
I think the fear of death is the fear of being forgotten. But I will live temporarily in the memories of those that knew me. But gradually they will die away soon. We all think we want to ‘leave a mark’ on the world in the hope that something will be left behind. Some people devote themselves to work in the hope of doing just this or perhaps as another way of evading the terror of death. Others procreate furiously in the hope that their genes, alongside their name, will continue. Perhaps we are also afraid that death will be painful. I hear the brain releases drugs that make you high. Perhaps for the first time in my life I will go on a trip! But I would prefer to stay conscious.
All this terror, panic and evasion create anxiety. Anxiety is a lack of security. I study my 87 year old mother. She does not exhibit fear but faces it with a cheerful disposition. She calmly discusses her death with me. She has an almost Taoist attitude to life and the challenges it throws at her. She broke her wrist recently and just shrugged her shoulders. She actively follows the flow of life, even as it leads to death.
The Buddhists got it right when they realise you have to look death in the face and make friends with it. My father’s death helped me look into the void and experience the terror. I sat with this feeling for a long time. Occasionally it returns. I do not wish to run from this fear. I need to experience it, feel it, embrace it and in turn love life all the more and accept the inevitable end that will face us all.