We don't know when it's going to happen. We don't usually know how either. But the one thing we all know for sure is that it will happen to everyone.
Today at 6:30pm EST my favorite uncle on my mother's side passed away.
And for whatever reason the task of calling my mother ("The Warden") and telling her that her brother had passed away (The second brother to die in the past 60 days) - fell upon me.
Learning that you have a life threatening or chronic illness throws you into shock for sure and in my case a sort of temporary insanity. That insanity comes from the realization that life as we knew it has ended. But is that such a bad thing? I’m hear to tell you that it doesn’t have to be. We feel insane because our feet are earthbound, standing firmly in the middle of a field of newly discovered facts. However our emotions have wings and are soaring through the land of “what if’s”.Especially when we are faced with death. Either our own impending death or the death of a loved one.
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The Photo to the left was taken one year ago, the last time I would see him alive.
It’s those fear based fantasies that we allow to consume us. Remember that every thought we have triggers an emotional and physical response in our bodies. Those fear based fantasies make our breathing more shallow, our heart rate increase and even our muscles begin to contract sending ourselves into a full fledged, self induced state of fear and panic. This intense fear creates a surplus of energy within us that has no outlet. Which means we are then left to deal with the insanity that follows. I call it a “State of mental fiction.” It’s a toxic mental cycle that goes something like this.
Step one: The brains hears the news or remembers hearing the life changing information. Replaying the event again and again in the mind.
Step two: A physical reaction occurs as a result of the thought which begins to overwhelm us.
Step three: We feel the physical energy in the form of panic, fear (fear of the unknown) and suffering.
Step four: The build up of excess energy in our body takes place, which has no outlet.
Step five: The body redirects the excess energy back to the brain.
Step six: The brain uses this excess energy to manifest another fear based thought pattern.
Step seven: The cycle repeats. Back to step two.
Each of us begin life by surviving insurmountable odds when you really think about it. We begin as just one of many billions all swimming around, struggling, fighting for our right to live. Eventually the rest will all perish. Leaving only one, sometimes two, of us the victors in a race we didn’t even know we were in. Suddenly life begins. All this, so that someday we can die.
We go through life living each day so carefully so as not to harm ourselves. As if somewhere in the deep reaches of our soul we know that death could come at any moment. And indeed it can and indeed we do. Each day we fasten our seat belts as we get into the car, and look both ways as we cross the street. All in an attempt to cheat death.
We are amazing creatures. The most intelligent to have ever lived and walked on this planet. We can put men on the moon and bring them back safely. We have abilities and brain power the likes of which no other living thing can even ponder. All housed in a decaying, container. The human body. Doomed to die from day one, with a shelf life the span of less then a blink of an eye in the grand scheme of vastness that is the universe we call home. For all of mankind, death is certain. The ultimate mystery that haunts us from the time our life begins. But do we know for sure what death truly is? Is it really the end? Or is it just the end of this and the beginning of something else? I know one thing for certain, I can’t answer any of these questions just yet. But someday, I will know the truth and so will you.
However on some level we don’t understand even that just yet. History is rich with wonderful tails of the after life. From before the beginnings of recorded history, through to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, to the present day you can find many a long documented account of just exactly what is to come once we die. Or so they say. Many people use religion to feel some sort of connectedness and find peace with and in the unknown, that is to say, what happens after we die. It provides them a sense of security, community and comforts their anxiety. Which is really just another way of saying “fear of the unknown”. Because the fact is, we do not know what happens after death. Period.
Religion provides people with a place to belong and moral guidance. Another way of identifying themselves and I respect and understand this. It has it’s place in our world.
Even so, though out my life and during my most recent challenges facing my own physical mortality I have realized that the culture I have lived in has tried it’s best to teach me that death is something to be avoided, feared and to be afraid of. But the question I kept asking myself during some of my darkest days alive, was “If I don’t truly know what death is, why am I so afraid of it?” All of this fear of the unknown confuses me. Why do we as societies choose to see the unknown as scary or fearful?
What I did know for certain, was what the process of death is like before it actually takes place.
That, I had experienced many times. I have seen what it was like to watch someone close to me slowly die of AIDS. I myself had been at deaths door several times in the past. So I knew what death looked like in various stages through out my existence as ironic as that may be. That is, where the fear was coming from. It suddenly occurred to me that it wasn’t what comes after death that scared us so much. It was clearly the process that can sometimes come before the actual act of dying itself. Some where inside of us all, death is simply unacceptable. To me, it’s almost as if dying is an insult to my very soul.
It’s the process of dying, the loss of control and the horrible indignity of it all that one fears so deeply.
It’s the way we fear we are going to die that causes all of the anxiety.
Because that’s what we know for sure. I know I’ve had fearful thoughts of great sadness relating to what I might leave behind, or miss or the pain and suffering my death may cause the one’s I love most. Those are things I feared. Ultimately we live our entire lives with the knowledge that one day we will cease to exist. This very knowledge creates a huge cognitive problem for us as humans.
But do we ever really stop to think about death and what it really means to us uniquely? Surprisingly, the answer is usually no, not until we are forced to understand it either through some life altering event, a near death experience or the diagnosis of the inevitable.
Profound thinking of death is culturally not allowed. So we don’t do it.
We are hard wired to live.
We are programed from birth to survive.
So thinking about death is considered something that goes against the very grain of our human nature. It was this very path of thought that allowed me to understand something I had never even considered before. That life is not the beginning. It’s not the end. It’s the time you spend in between those two very important events in your particular existence. Ultimately, life is doomed to fail. You can not win. Everyone dies.
The fact is that more than 50 million people alive at this very moment will be dead within the next twelve months.
And though your brain is culturally trained to understand that as “them” I am here to tell you that one of “them” could be YOU. Our anxiety of death is really the anticipation of a future event. What we focus on in life is how and when we will die. Not the fact that we will. An event we have all been socially conditioned to fear, avoid and be afraid of.
Yet, we don’t even know what exactly it is.
I would love to hear your thoughts on death and dying. Share your thoughts below.
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