This is a topic I don’t want to talk about. I don’t want to talk about it because it scares the fucking shit out of me. The concept of death, it terrifies me. Paralyses me. But that is exactly why I need to talk about it.
A few weeks ago I was confronted with this reality to someone very close to me: my Dad. He had a medical episode that resembled that of a heart attack. Fortunately, it wasn’t. But the remnants of the reality, the reality that he could have died, have lingered. And since then, I have been trapped in my head trying to grapple with the concept of our own mortality. Of the finite nature of our existence.
Last Saturday I was watching The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and having witnessed one of the characters die triggered me into a spiral of overwhelming thoughts. So much so, that I thought I was going to pass out from the panic and dread I was feeling inside. What happens when we die? A question no one knows the answer to. And a question that my logical brain doesn’t want to accept: nothing. That’s it. It ends. There’s no more life. In the same way we don’t remember anything before we were born, that is what will happen when we die.
Even as I type these words, tears stream down my face. My chest tightens. I can’t breathe. That can’t be the end. That can’t be reality. That can’t happen. I genuinely cannot fathom this ending. And any time I think about it, my brain panics. I feel sick. Light headed. Saying I’m scared is an understatement. I’m petrified. Not only for my own death, but the death of those closest to me and even those not close to me. How can life just end? How can there not be anything more? Am I the only person who is experiencing this dread? The incomprehensible, overwhelming sense of death?
I think as a society we’ve become so desensitised to death that we fail to stop and comprehend what death actually means. It’s the loss of life. The loss of consciousness. Awareness. Existence. Never again will that person or animal take another breath. Have their voices heard. Have their presence felt. How is everyone so okay with this ending?
I suppose it’s because most of us live in a way where we think we’re immortal. Many of us don’t stop to consider the finite nature of our existence. The confronting nature of our ending. An ending that could occur any day, at any time. And yet we live like we’ll be here forever. Like everyone close to us will be here forever. We live in the future and we live in the past, but rarely do we actually live for the present.
I’ve always been an advocate for not telling people what to do or how to live their lives – because I think we get enough of that from society. But then when I think about death, when I think about our finite existence, I’m filled with a sense of regret. A sense of urgency. A sense of inadequacy. I need to be doing more. I need to be doing more now. Now while I can. Not waiting for a year, five years, ten years, because that isn’t guaranteed. And whilst we wait, we waste.
Since my Dad’s medical episode a few weeks ago, I have been filled with so much sadness. So much grief. I feel like I’m grieving the loss of people before I’ve even lost them. I’ve tried to ignore these thoughts, but I can’t. Because I know that the only way to truly live my life, is to come to accept the agreement we make to experience life: death. And I’m hoping that as painful and overwhelming and unbearable as this reality feels right now, that once/if I can accept death, that my life will be that much richer, that much more meaningful, that much more beautiful.
We often hear claims that we should “live as though today is our last day” – but I’ve often thought that statement never inspires the sense of urgency we require to take action. Instead, I like to alter the claim. “Live as though today is your friend’s and family member’s last day.” If you knew your best friend was going to die tomorrow, what would you say to him/her? What would you want them to know before they passed? How would you choose to spend those last moments with them? Would you be bitching about work, friends, family, or would you be talking about things of substance? Things of meaning? Would you take that opportunity to tell your friend how much they’ve meant to you? How much they’ve influenced you?
This is what I try to do with those in my life. I try to live in a way where their existence isn’t guaranteed. I try to communicate their impact and meaning on my life as much as possible. Because I believe this is one of the world’s greatest tragedies – people never know how much they meant to others, because too often, we never tell them. It takes their death for people to express their feelings.
Look at anyone’s Facebook page after they’ve died. Look at the amazingly beautiful tributes people post on there. The saddest part? That person will have no idea. And they probably had no idea either. Because we live in a world without urgency. Without meaning. We take others for granted. Because we take life for granted.
As difficult as these past few weeks have been and will no doubt continue to be, I’m grateful for the opportunity to learn this lesson now. It’s a lesson most of us will be forced to learn eventually, so why not start young. I already see changes within my life – there’s an urgency now to create with where I am and with what I have. And there’s an urgency to communicate with those nearest and dearest to me about how much they have impacted my life.
One of my amazing friends told me about this workshop she attended during Covid; 21 Days of Abundance. On one of the days she was asked to write down 50 people who have influenced her life. And I thought, what an incredible exercise. And what a beautiful gesture that would be to write to every single one of them to communicate just that – their influence.
I’m not perfect, and I don’t always get it right. I still live on autopilot 95% of the time – I still take those closest to me for granted. I still get distracted. But there have been moments of intense clarity, of intense remembrance for the finite nature of existence, for the beautiful little child that exists in all of us, a child that might also be scared of this reality. And it’s in those moments that I’m reminded to be there. To be present. To love. To communicate. To add value. To let that individual know how much they mean to me. And it’s in those moments where I’m reminded we are all human. Our lives are all finite. And we’re all going to die one day. And so I devote my life to being a living eulogy – to communicate to those their meaning whilst they’re still here and can still hear.