What is Death, Really?

The inevitable reality of death is perhaps our most present fear as human beings. Processing and coming to terms with our own mortality is a lifelong endeavour, and one that many of us are unwilling to face. As our lives go on and we approach middle age and beyond, it is only natural to begin pondering death more than we may have done in our youth. We have a choice in how we approach death – we can do it filled with fear and resistance, or with acceptance and curiosity.

In reality, death is just another chapter of life. We fear the pain and suffering that many assume is a given part of death, and we especially fear the unknown. There is no guarantee that death will come painfully. As living beings we make this assumption because we are fed horror stories and have been surrounded by demonised conceptions of death our entire lives. If we release the assumption that death is always accompanied by pain, then we can begin to dispel the rest of our fears around it.

Human beings, especially in Western cultures, have a deep fear of the unknown. We fear that which we cannot quantify. We like to set parameters for everything and put things in boxes so that we are more easily able to compartmentalise and process them. This can even be seen in various religious conceptions of the afterlife – in part. We believe what religion has to say about the afterlife because having some knowledge about what may come next soothes us. Religious beliefs certainly help in this regard. It is unsettling to think of death as an empty and unknowable void, so we create a narrative around what it might be like. Our ideas about death even sometimes inform the way that we live our lives. This is human instinct and perfectly natural. However, it may also be helpful to begin to embrace our lack of knowledge about what comes after life.

There was a time before we were born that we existed unconsciously. This period of time, when we were growing in the womb, is not associated with fear but rather with potential. Perhaps if we see death as a thing filled with potential rather than emptiness, as something that is a new endeavour, then we can recontextualise it as something not to be feared but embraced when it presents itself to us. Embracing death will allow us to focus more on the life that we’re presently living. Anxiety around death, though understandable and a ubiquitous experience, can easily take us out of the present. The promise of life. Here and Now.

Death is a part of the cycle of life, and they are arguably one in the same. The life cycle of Japanese cherry blossoms is a beautiful metaphor for this. They are beautiful as they blossom and come to life, but are equally as beautiful when their life comes to an end and their petals begin to fall. They are a celebration of the ephemerality of the life of all things. Both beginnings and endings are precious.

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