Whilst there are many articles and blog posts out there that discuss how people deal with grief and the loss of loved ones, I don’t think I have come across too many that actually talk about the fear of death, especially from a personal perspective.
So here goes.
(Because this is a rather morbid subject, I will sprinkle a little humour around to keep it as light as possible.)
I have always had a strange relationship with death. The few occasions that I have experienced those close to me dying, I haven’t felt any kind of grief. Of course I am sad that they passed but death doesn’t seem to affect me in the same way that most people would expect. I know I’m not a psychopath because I now feel guilty after laughing when a child falls over. I call that personal growth.
Approximately 4 years ago I had a weird panic attack that left me with a heart rate of somewhere near a billion. For a minute or so I thought my time was up – the end. I even had to take a walk around the block just so that if I keeled over, at least I would be in public and someone would see me.
Every time I experience a palpitation I think back to that day and, for several minutes at least, my fear of death goes through the roof. I will admit, this fear has diminished somewhat and I like to think that my feelings about death are a lot healthier but I had to go through a lot of stuff to get to where I am today.
You know those beheading videos on the internet? Yep, I’ve seen them all. In fact, I’ve watched over 50 ‘execution’ videos and this genuinely helped. It was an odd phase I went through that lasted a few days but I’m glad I did it. As a horror movie fanatic I was surprised to discover that my tolerance for such things was actually quite high. I couldn’t however, tolerate the final Saw movie.
I do have some standards.
Sometimes we have to face our fears and the things that are uncomfortable for us to move forwards. I’m not recommending you do the same, obviously – but this was MY way of tackling it.
We all have our own feelings towards death and it affects us all in different ways. Some of you may be religious and are always worried about where your soul will end up. Others may believe that once we’re gone, we’re gone – worm food.
Personally, ever since I first entertained the idea that we are all inside an elaborate computer simulation, my fear of the unknown dropped considerably. In case you hadn’t realised, I am not religious in the slightest, but who knows what is real and what is fantasy? Many physicists postulate the idea that we are living within many different dimensions, where we experience life in the 3rd dimension but as many as 10 could exist. Also there is the popular theory of parallel universes – where every possible situation has already happened.
My previous article on this subject touched upon these theories and in my opinion, the more we think about how little we actually know, in a strange way, the more comforting it is.
Religious or not – everyone has a theory about reality and what happens to us after death but it is only guesswork. Nobody knows anything for sure – and while this uncertainty somehow makes me feel more positive, for many people it is what causes us to fear death.
I have come up with 4 ways to approach the subject of death and hopefully after reading through the rest of this article, I will have given you a few things to ponder.
Let’s start this list with a bit of a sledgehammer;
1. You’re already dead, so just accept it
They say that there are only two guarantees in this life; the intense desire to punch Miley Cyrus in the face and taxes. Well, we can now add death to this mini list because whether we want to admit it or not – it’s a comin’ and if we’re not prepared, it will kick our asses.
That’s not what we want is it? We want to kick its ass instead. Chuck him in the ring with that Cyrus woman and I’ll take them both on!!
So how do we accept the inevitable? It’s bloody scary.
I go on and on about the word acceptance and how it plays a role in almost every area of our lives and without wanting to sound like a broken record, we all need to embrace this idea more often, especially regarding our fear of death.
To put it in simple terms, we’re not going to live forever. (Or are we? See number 4)
There is a finite lifespan on our internal organs. Our telomeres are shortening with every breath we take and there is a very real possibility that McDonalds ‘super-size’ portions are merely an alien plot to wipe out mankind.
We’re not supposed to live forever. It’s not natural and we die for a reason – to keep funeral parlours in business.
I mean, the goddamn sun is going to explode at some point so the quicker we accept that death is as normal as life – the quicker we can get busy livin’ – because the dyin’ is just around the corner.
2. Everyone will forget you when you’re dead
The beauty about this is that it doesn’t matter what you do in your life because given a long enough timeline, there are absolutely no consequences to your actions. 99.99% of us are merely a blip on the radar that is time. Unless you are likely to find a cure for cancer or are planning on becoming the 21st century’s first true dictator, then history probably won’t remember who you are.
It’s nothing to be sad about. That’s just how the cookie crumbles.
After we are gone we only exist in the memories of others. Once that has passed we may still exist in photographs and video but eventually these will be lost to the ravages of time and it will be like we never existed at all. Also, when Microsoft (and the machines) rise up and take over the world, backwards compatibility will be a thing of the past anyway.
Albert Einstein, Saddam Hussein and John Lennon – these are three people who are incredibly well known, but for wildly different reasons. There will come a time when they will appear to future generations in the same way that we look back on the likes of Genghis Khan, Julius Caesar and Michael Jackson – questioning how real these men were and if any of their achievements or acts of notoriety are heavily embellished or even if they existed at all.
They are still the most famous band in the world but eventually people will stop listening to The Beatles. It may be 500 years or it may be in 5000 years but that time will come. Let it be, indeed. So how can this be a good thing? Well it allows us the opportunity to do whatever we want because in the grand scheme of things, nothing really matters. This is the true essence of being present. To not worry about the past or the future – the only time is now.
Live your life how you see fit because these people who you are trying so hard to impress will all perish alongside you. Regardless of their status, wealth or influence, they won’t be around in the future. Your most embarrassing moments, your failures and your mistakes will disappear eventually so don’t worry about them.
You’ve all heard of the phrase ‘live each day as if it’s your last’, but that’s overcomplicating it. Just do whatever you want without purposefully hurting others and you’ll exit this world having won at the game of life.
3. You’ve experienced death already
My birth date is December 6th 1980 – yes, apart from making me pretty ancient, it also means that if we go back approximately 9 months, I didn’t exist at all.
To put it simply; before that I was nothing, not even a single celled organism. Not one part of me existed in the 70’s and I’m not sure if that saddens me or if I had a lucky escape. Besides, the 80’s rocked and I won’t hear a bad word on the matter!
One of the many fears about death is the idea that once we’re gone, we won’t experience anything ever again. That is probably the number one reason why we follow a religion. The afterlife (in whatever form) is comforting and without it the thought is too much to bear.
But we’ve already done that. If you can’t fathom what it would be like to have no thoughts, feelings, senses or memory then may I refer you to the several million years (at least) before you were even born, and if you follow certain religions, the few thousand years before you were born. Bases covered.
Of course, many of you choose to numb your senses by watching reality television so at least you have some idea of how this feels. For the rest of us normal folk, we can just think about the time before we were born because that’s exactly the same as death. Never existing and ceasing to exist are pretty damn similar to me.
You weren’t scared before your birth so don’t afraid of what it will be like after your death.
4. There is a chance you may yet achieve immortality
I wrote an article last year that touched upon the many crazy ways that future technology will amaze us all and one of the entries was the idea that we could, in theory, live forever.
There is a Cambridge University physicist by the name of Aubrey de Grey, who apart from having an awesome name is a firm believer in mankind’s ability to recreate the Highlander movies.
Yeh, I said the 80’s were good, but not THAT good.
He theorises that the first person to live to 1000 may already be 60 years of age. He says that the reason why we age and eventually die is because our cells stop regenerating to their full extent but studies on mice have proved that we can slow this down. Eventually these cells could be prevented from ageing altogether and maybe even regenerated.
I already behave like I will life forever. I haven’t aged like many of my peers and I still feel like I am 21 so, for me, I’m fully expecting to outlast the cockroaches. It doesn’t matter if I live to a normal age or if I will celebrate my 4000th birthday wondering why England still haven’t won another World Cup – whatever happens, happens. It’s all cool.
What are your thoughts about death? Do you have a fear of death or are you comfortable with the idea? Please let me know in the comments.
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Photo: Swanage and Poole bay taken from Bournemouth beach 9/11/13