The Vividness of Death

June, 2017

The ends of our lives is often not an easy subject for us to discuss. It is, in many ways, taboo to give off even a whiff of being at peace with no longer being alive. We are supposed to cling to life – anything less is unforgivable.

Friends, I am here today to tell you that I am not afraid of dying. If I were to die Right Now, even if I were aware of what was coming, I would be at peace. I have no attachment to this life, no fear of things not done. I would feel pain for those people who care about me who would be saddened by my passing, but nothing more – even with this amazing new life unfolding before me, it would be ok.

Whether it was being killed in a motorcycle crash or an airline disaster or a heart attack or a shooting – In those final seconds (should I be conscious for them) I will be mentally ok. Curious, maybe nervous, but not afraid.

Why am I saying this? Because, when our friends and loved ones are ripped from us, it is traumatic and horrible for those of us left behind. Even if we know the person is “no longer suffering,” it is difficult not having them here anymore. We miss them. We love them. We try to figure out how to go on without them. We think of something we want to tell them, and can’t. It can be horrible to be left behind.

If we were not present for their passing, and we so often are not, we wonder if they suffered, if they were afraid, if they wished for something, if they had any last words, what their thoughts were. The not knowing is devastating.

I am telling you now: I will have no fear, no personal regrets of magnitude if I cannot carry on.

What I am afraid of, however, is lingering. I am not someone who wishes to be kept alive if my quality of life will be very small. Brain damage? Let me go, man. Paralyzed for life? Same – let me go into that good night.

If there is a solid chance I will come out of a coma, sure, give me a shot – otherwise, if the outlook is grim? Please find a way to make peace with it and let me go.

I understand most people want to stay alive, many at all costs – they have things they want to do, they have responsibilities or children or bucket lists. Are there things I want to do before I die? Sure! But should I die before doing those things, it won’t matter – I will no longer be here to want them.

Rather, I will have moved onto the great mystery – I’ll either know what comes next, or I will cease to exist, and I am very excited about the former, while being completely ok with the latter.

I was until this second certain I had written the following paragraph here or on Facebook, but apparently not. At the risk of repeating myself, I’ll share something that formed and shaped my view on death at a young age:

I first heard that song in 1984 at age 14, and I was so moved by it, so struck by the idea that we don’t have to only be sad or afraid of death, but keenly curious and interested, that it never left me.

Like so many of us, I’m very curious as to what comes after. I am not so much afraid (other than a very small, niggling, irrational concern that Hell might actually be a thing, and I might actually be sent there for not believing in the Christian God) as anticipating. While there are times when death sounds quite peaceful and relaxing, I’m not actively seeking its release. However, I’ve had a few dreams over the years which have been exceptionally vivid and felt 100% real at the time.

There were some that involved being stabbed and bleeding out or falling from an enormous height, but the one that left the deepest impression was this: Walking in a freezing winterscape, I fell into a swiftly-moving river that had ice on the banks and would soon kill me if not by drowning then by hypothermia.

As I was swept along in the current, watching the scenery go by, I had a crystal clear thought: “This is the last thing I am ever going to experience. I really need to pay attention to what’s going on right now, every thought, every feeling, every sight and sound.” It wasn’t a scary thought – just a powerful one. I realized I was about to die and I was ok with it. It was emotional in a sense, but nothing bad, nothing negative.

Many times in dreams, I know I’m dreaming – I’ve had other, lesser dreams that involved something that was going to kill me (falling, usually) but I knew it wasn’t real and therefore didn’t have the same thoughts.

It was intense and peaceful at the same time.

Mostly, I just hope people won’t worry about what went undone in my life: I’ve been so fortunate to have experienced a great many things, I’ve met exceptional people throughout my life, and I have squandered a ton of time. I could have done so much more, but I chose not to. It’s all ok. Promise.

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