Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Thoughts about Death

Since the death of my step-son a year and a half ago, I have roamed and lurched all over the strange planet of grief, loss and change, accommodation and acceptance, fury and pain. It's a complicated and unwelcoming place, to be sure.

Before Daniel's death, I had experienced many deaths -- my first child, my father and grandparents, all my aunts and uncles, friends, in-laws, students, cousins and pets. Since Daniel's death, more deaths have touched my life closely...and painfully. My world is being rocked significantly.

I am being challenged to re-examine my ideas about death. I've never been terribly afraid of dying or of death, but I've also never spent a lot of time thinking about it. I guess in some vague way I've just assumed it would all turn out okay. This non-approach has been part of my magical thinking, which I wrote about a few times in April.

My current exploration starts from a place of absolutely believing I can't know for certain what dying feels like or what happens after we're dead. So it's all speculation. Maybe we'll understand it on "the other side." Maybe we won't. I can't know that, either. Maybe I won't even know it once I "get" there.

I like to think that our time after we leave these bodies will be pleasant, but I don't invest a lot of emotion into that preference, because as I said before, I don't believe it's possible to know for sure while we're on "this side."

Where all this surmising and musing leaves me is with this: it actually doesn't matter too much (to me) what happens after I die, but it matters a great deal what happens before I die. And I can do something about that. I can choose to live my life fully and consciously. I can choose to regularly act on the love I feel for those around me. I can choose to be a better version of myself than I was yesterday or last week or last year. I can choose to be respectful  and kind to those I find hard to love and to those I meet only briefly. I can choose to shoot for my best self and to be grateful when I see traits I admire in others and in myself.

So I don't currently feel too worried about the hereafter. I'm aware that I may feel very differently if I'm conscious when I'm close to my death, but even so, I prefer to deal with the here-now as best I can. In the meantime, I love this sentiment about death which has been ascribed to Mark Twain:

I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.

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