Do you remember the first time you realized that you would die? It happened to me when I was in my 20’s. Why? I don’t know but it caused such a rush of adrenaline that I spent the next few minutes in panic mode.
Facing this ultimate, unchangeable fact is an emotional and spiritual challenge to say the least. For most of us, we experience it differently at various times in our life.
I haven’t had that overwhelming shock now for as long as I can remember. I have however been shaken by the death of others. The feelings that come then are as close to death for me as I can imagine.
In the winter of 2004-05, my very close friend, Dudley Weider, died suddenly while out cross country skiing. For weeks and weeks, I couldn’t seem to get away from pain of loss and the fact of my own mortality.
I was glad that I worked in a huge research and teaching medical complex because it enabled me to quickly and smoothly get an appointment with a counselor. I sat down with this insightful psychiatrist and told her I was afraid to die. And she asked “What specifically are you afraid of?”
I am not sure why it took what it took but it was such a relief to answer that I really wasn’t afraid of death itself but I hated the thought of how that would affect those I love most dearly.
A dreamless sleep without awareness is not so daunting for me now. The agony for my spouse and children, however, is the thing I would so like to avoid. That of course is just as impossible as living forever.
What can one do? One simple thing is talk to them, hoping they understand. I think of Ira Byock’s book, Four Things That Matter Most. “Please forgive me,” “I forgive you,” “Thank you,” and “I love you” which carry great power to heal and to mend relationships. They can also help one feel some resolution at the end of days when said to those closest to you.
From there, I guess we are on our own, in most ways but not right now. So, maybe the best bet is to stop thinking about it for now.