“Death is like a robe everyone has to wear.” – African proverb
Funerals are not easy to organise. But when we do, the pomp we give the dead is so enviable. We give it so much energy bystanders actually question whether we are not glorifying death? We all perceive funerals as an honourable parting gift for our families and friends. We tell ourselves, “it is the least we can do for them”. And truth be told, everyone deserves a befitting farewell. But beyond the observances, there is duplicity in our attitudes. We create and actually have fun out of grief. Death make us uncomfortable, yet we celebrate when it happens.
Death is a mystery; and the unknown always invokes anxiousness in us. It is probably where our fear of death comes from. But we also know death is a part of life. Like birth, it is that one experience we will all have.
It is unavoidable. And our unwillingness to have conversations about it will not stop it. Likewise, it does not matter how long we prolong our lives; death will come for all of us.
Thus, it is surprising many of us have cultivated an unwillingness to have conversations about death in general, and about our own deaths in particular.
Quite often, any conversation about death gets us emotional; as if talking about death equals dying. Would it be beneficial for us if we embraced death and talked about it often, just as we talk about other aspirations? Maybe this might empower us to confront it with a spirited inquisitiveness and make us appreciate it a lot better. And it might lessen our fear of it and make us live more meaningfully. This might perhaps bring out the attitude Leonardo da Vinci appeals for in his famous quote, “As a well spent day brings happy sleep, so life well used brings happy death”.
As we get older, we become increasingly conscious of the presence of death. We witness the death of our elders and our contemporaries, and sometimes those younger than us. Thus, we cannot pretend we do not think about our own deaths.
We can smell it, and we can feel the thinness of the line that separates living and dying. Plus, we attend so many funerals we become aware that life is merely a genetic process, to live and then to die. It is an elemental fact that should make us wise about living. Sadly, many of us instead choose to run from it. We would prefer not to die; so much so that we do not want to even converse about death. And in the process, we refuse to live.
That is what our fear of death does to us. We think so much about not dying we play safe with life.
That attitude is like life looking us in the face and we are trying to avoid the gaze. It is like holding onto an abstract with an unproven theorem.
Every decision hewn out of that is unreal. Each of us is special, but we are not so special that we will not die. And we are not so special life cannot do without us. Life goes on in us, and it goes on outside of us. It will always go on, no matter the circumstance and even when you are no longer here.
But what friction have you sparked that will allow life to carry you along its journey? What accounts of your life will you tell when you transition to the other side of life? What does your life mean to life now, and what will it mean when you are no longer a part of it? These are the thoughts conversations about death can generate to help us understand how deeply we have to live.
Marcus Aurelius, the Roman emperor, advocates that since “death smiles at us all, all a person can do is to smile back”. This is a call for us to live magnificently so that our absence will leave a gap in life. It is a call for us to embrace life with such radiant sanity, life grieves when we are gone. Truthfully, Oliver Sacks – the British neurologist and author, tells us that: “Our generation is on its way out, and the death of each member will feel like an abruption, a tearing away of part of ourselves”. That is what death does to us.
But in all of this pain, he tells us that “there will be no one like us when we are gone; but then, there is no one like anyone else, ever. When people die, they cannot be replaced. They leave holes that cannot be filled, for it is the fate – the genetic and neural fate – of every human being to be a unique individual, to find his own path, to live his own life, to die his own death”.
We are destined to die. But we should not die in vain. To prevent that, we have to live so meaningfully we are fulfilled in ourselves and in others. And to achieve this height, we have to cease worrying about our individual selves and immerse our words and actions in activities with larger ends for our humanity: “For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one,” Kahlil Gibran tells us. And no matter where we find ourselves, Keith Haring – the American artist who lived for his work, entreats us to “accept our fate, accept our lives, accept our shortcomings, accept our struggles, accept our inability to understand, and accept what we will never become and what we will never have”. Quite simply, he tells us to accept death and to accept life, so that we can truly live it fully…
Kodwo Brumpon is an author, a life coach and a philanthropist who inspires individuals, groups and organisations to think and feel that which is true by helping them to positively respond to that which is beautiful while nudging them to let goodness govern their actions.
Comments, suggestions and requests should be sent to him at [email protected] FIN