Death is the ultimate taboo subject – something that all of us think about but we rarely bring it up in conversation because of the fear being labelled a weirdo.
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.
What this means is that with the potential to regrow body parts (yes that’s a thing), we could just keep replacing our faulty organs at the nearest garage… sorry, hospital.
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
So happy to have stumbled upon this post via The Great Jolly Hoomah, Jamie. We don’t talk about death nearly enough, and certainly not with the sense of humor that you bring to the table. My mother has told me that after she dies, I am to use her ashes to spread on my steep driveway in icy weather. I will do as I’m told. I don’t know what will happen after I die, but I don’t care. I give it no thought whatsoever. I am spiritual, but not religious. I live my life as skillfully and intentionally as I can now, because I think we are supposed to be happy while we’re here, not because I’m trying to get into the right country club after I die. And I’m very at ease with the notion of being forgotten after this life’s time is up, which, in the greater scheme of things, will be in the blink of an eye. P.S. I laughed out loud when you referred to yourself as “pretty ancient”. I was born in 1964! Cheers, Martha
Martha brettschneider recently posted..What the F-Bomb Taught Me About Presence Power
Hey Martha! You seem very relaxed about the whole thing, which is refreshing to see. I would assume as well that you’re the kind of person that doesn’t dwell on the past and that the present is very important to you. I am striving to be as relaxed as you and I think I am getting closer. Thanks for your comment!
Jamie – If anyone can convince me I’ll live to 1000, it’s someone called Aubrey de Grey. That’s one awesome name.
I’ve no opinion on how many dimensions there and if there’s ‘a plan’ for anyone. All I know is – people around me have died. One day I’ll be one of them. That’s life. After the first death, the rest just, sadly, seem a little ‘business as usual’. Know what I mean?
This is the first time ever I’ve read someone watched beheading videos after an anxiety attack. Explain please!
I had an intense anxiety attack once too. My heart was beating a gazillion times faster and my breath was getting shorter and shorter. I seriously thought that was gonna be it. But it wasn’t. Reframes a lot though, doesn’t it?
Razwana recently posted..Competition winners! Headlines hints! Crazy hair!
Hey, you’re right there. I would imagine that the more death you encounter, the more ‘normal’ it seems. I can’t imagine how it must feel for an elderly person who must have experienced half of their friends and family perish throughout the years – not to mention a constant reminder how little time they have left. Maybe they have accepted it? Maybe that is one reason why they say we get happier after the age of 55?
Ah I didn’t watch the videos straight after the panic attack, but it was something that just intrigued me one day so I went for it. I also did a similar thing with crazy sports injuries and awesome boxing knockouts. It’s just one of those phases..
Having a panic attack does re frame things a little, you’re right. Subconsciously I don’t believe we really think we’re going to die, but it’s a little jolt to the system and a brief glimpse of what it’s like not being in control of your body… so it is genuinely terrifying.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
I always keep death in mind and try to live each day as if it were my last. There’s a great book called 20,000 Days and Counting I reviewed on my blog that helped with this mindset.
Hi Dan, thanks for that, I will check it out. 20,000 days does seem an awfully short amount…
I wrote a guest post back in July for Trevor Wilson called “Death Is At Your Doorstep, How Will You Answer It?” I wrote it because death is taboo like you said and I think people need to be reminded that there time is finite.
Maybe we will become immortal. I’ve been doing some research on trans-humanism, but I’ll probably die soon anyways because my brain nearly explodes every time I learn more about this stuff.
Anyways, I love your message and I fully support it. We’re (probably) all going to die so we might as well make some dent while we are here.
Kevin Cole recently posted..On Growing Pains, Evolution & Starting Before Your Ready
Ahh yes, I remember reading that, great article! I have yet to hear of Trans-Humanism (at least by name) but I will give it a look.
Ok, if being born in 1980 makes you ancient, then I am ancient plus 7 years.
And it’s all good 😉
But seriously, of course we understand that we didn’t exist before we existed – but the way you compared it to death was nothing short of brilliant.
It’s so true, and I had never thought of it this way.
I can’t say I have any words of wisdom about death. My only concern about the matter was that it wouldn’t happen with my music still in me – as I had heard Wayne Dyer say before.
I agree that ‘the now’ is all we really have. We tend to forget this though since most of us have been raised to sacrifice happiness now for some future security that doesn’t even exist.
When you look at it that way, what benefit could there be in not being present?
Dana recently posted..How to Deal When You’re in a Funk
Hi Dana – you don’t look ‘ancient plus 7’ – more ‘flared trousers plus 2’…
Great point about how we sacrifice the now for a future that will never arrive. I say never, because until it does arrive.. it doesn’t exist. Therefore we are pinning our hopes on a fantasy instead of our current reality!
Thanks for dropping by!
Ok, you’ve got me curious – what does flared trousers plus 2 mean?
If ancient (1980) plus 7 years is 1973 and flared trousers is, oh I don’t know – 1979? Well, if you add 2 on to that it means you look younger than your age! 🙂
Hahaha, I love it. I love the idea of death. The day you hit rock bottom and face death will be the day you become alive.
Human beings are the only species that think they will live forever. Quote by me.
I’ve had several situations that have lead me to believe, yea, I’m dead, so I might as well live it to the fullest. I mean, I already died.
Blame this on an abusive childhood that lead to becoming suicidal. Then add to that being bullied throughout my school years. It didn’t help that I had surgery where they inserted a metal bar in my chest. And the cherry on top was this past summer when I had a motorcycle accident. I had no helmet and completely destroyed my face. I have scars all over the place.
I’m all good now, though, so don’t worry hahaha.
I’m not going to include any links in here, cause that’s rude, but my accident pictures are on my instagram and my metal bar pictures can be seen in my body transformation video on YouTube.
SebAstian recently posted..Fear Of Failure… Screw That
Or maybe the opposite is true, maybe all other animals lack the intelligence of pure self awareness and therefore their own mortality. So by existing in the present at all times, perhaps they don’t recognise the concept of death until it hits!
Ouch, that sounds nasty. I bet that gave you a new perspective on life though right?
The accident? Just reaffirmation of who I am. I woke up in the hospital and everything I ever learned about life just hit me. My only thought was, “Sebastian, you can’t change what happened. All you can do now is heal as fast as possible (the accident happened 5 weeks before a bodybuilding competition)”
In terms of the animals… Have you ever seen an owl just stand on a branch and complain about sad and hard life is? Animals seem to simply live. Humans waste their entire lives in their own heads worrying about stuff that will never happen.
SebAstian recently posted..Nov 14
If we make it to our 4000th birthdays (ok, I’ll be waiting for you to catch up for a few years) we’ll have a pact to find Miley Cyrus and punch her in the face together. Deal? I thought it was only me. . .
I agree that we’re mostly all in denial about death. It’s self protective – and even when people around us die, there’s still a part of us that feels that maybe it won’t happen to us. But as unfathomable as it might be, you’re right – it will. Still can’t quite wrap my head around it.
But I have often thought about the fact that there have been so many billions of people on earth – so many of which there is absolutely no record of. A few years back I was going through some old family photos, and I came across a few with some people who my parents and I didn’t know. They were from only a generation or two ago, and we had no idea who these people were. So the point of life is to really make the most of it right now. Have fun. Make a difference. Live your life. Right now. Because no one is going to recognize your photograph in 40 or 50 or 60 years most likely, so stop living like everyone is watching and worrying about everything you do. Just live.
Jessica Sweet recently posted..Engineering Inspiration
I will agree to that if I can punch her first? I don’t want her face to be all mangled by the time I get my chance.. 😉
You know I even experienced a similar thing when looking at my old school year photo. There were several faces who I recognised but whose names escaped me and even a few people who I didn’t recognise at all. It just goes to show that people come and go and quite often, we have no idea who they are.
Why would you watch numerous videos of other human beings being brutally decapitated? What’s wrong with u?!
Don’t worry Mike, I didn’t gather my mates round and order the pizza’s in whilst doing it. It was a curious one off – and it helped a lot.