Sunday, November 6, 2011

Is death a debt?

In the previous post I mentioned death anxiety, death phobia and death terror. Ernest Becker wrote The Denial of Death in exposing the functions within modern civilization to shield us from our future, that we will die. This has turned our mortality into "news". When we receive the "news" we are shocked and traumatized. Becker argues that we should not fall victim to this, your death should not come as a surprise. We should have seen our death coming and lived our lives knowing that one day it will happen. Living blindly to death manifests itself in our culture as death coming as some surprise to people when they discover they're dying. Perhaps they receive a terminal diagnosis or negative prognosis and they simply didn't expect that they would die. It's natural to be surprised, shocked and traumatized that you've discovered how you will die and perhaps when.

Here, pleading with a dying person to love their dying life is difficult. This death phobia, anxiety or terror can be alleviated by our relationships. A dying person can turn towards their families and friends to ask them to love their dying, to carry them when they're gone. Connections with other people can affect personal change and help in dying. Why should lonely be dying? Not only do we die alone but we get separated from consciousness, the world as we know it. In psychotherapy we learn that most of our work is to help others with interpersonal pain or loneliness, intimacy, fear of rejection, being unloveable, etc. Dying very much deals with these issues, families regress around a dying person and those are dying don't want to drag others down, they isolate themselves. Holding someone who is suffering is a great comfort and it may be necessary for the dying person to reach out. To show that suffering is not something that happens to them but that it's a consequence of their living and take on life. To not grieve someone let's them down, show's them we don't love them. A good death, dying well may involve grieving someone who is dying while they are still alive. Here, grief is understood to be a skill, it's no an affliction or inevitable outcome. Rather than mitigate and handle grief, it's a goal to achieve.

My favourite A.A. Milne Quote:

What does this quote say to me? I want to persist in my own being, if I am to die I want my family and friends, the people that I love to love me after I'm gone. I want them to honour me, remember me, celebrate my life and carry me. 

I want to greet death authentically and integrate it into my understanding of the world. To know that life ends and that my only destiny is to one day die. With this knowledge, I too greet tomorrow and proceed as if I am indebted.

Grieving is loving those who left you. Loving is grieving those who have not yet left you,


  1. I really appreciate acknowledging grief as a skill versus the negative connotation that it currently holds. I find that we either shy away from or pity the person who is grieving. We treat them as delicate and fragile (which they might very well be for awhile), without recognizing the wonderful memories they are holding. They may be mourning a loss, but they are also celebrating a life. A loved one passing is a definite loss, but it was also a gain to have known them at all.

    1. Thanks for your comments, considering grief a skill is something I feel passionately about. If you want any further reading, check out The Tibetan Book of the Dead; much of what is written there is a philosophy congruent to much of what I'm discussing about death and dying.