I was asked to write a piece for a friend, who is enrolled in a psychology class, to answer the question of what my thoughts are on death and dying. This is what I came up with…
“Death smiles at us all, but all a man can do is smile back.” – Marcus Aurelius
Death – the terminal disease. We are all afflicted and the sands of time run as we venture between points A and B. No one is immune and no one escapes the cruel hand of fate as death will sweep each of us away.
In American society, we fear death. Jay Leno tells a joke that it was found in a survey of Americans, people only fear public speaking more than death, meaning at a funeral, people are more afraid of giving the eulogy than being in the coffin. But, why do we fear it? We are very aware that our lives will end with our death no matter the outcome. It is likely because we fear the unknown. We fear what will happen to us. Are religious teachings of an afterlife true? Who will care for our families? Will we leave them in debt? Have we done enough with our lives?
I’ve thought about my own mortality to great lengths. As I grow older, it seems like the years arrive faster. Every day I’m aging. There is no certainty I will grow “old” (whatever age that is) and there are no promises of tomorrow. I can’t necessarily choose when I die. But I also can’t worry about it. To some degree, it is out of my control.
A few years ago, when I had completely bottomed out, I came to the revelation that I needed to focus on what I could control and make my life my own. I can control my own legacy. I can choose who I want to be and not be dictated by the actions of others. With that catharsis, I truly did feel alive. I decided I would live without regrets. Yes, a clichéd statement if there ever was one but it is more than a statement as it becomes a life choice.
I don’t believe there is an afterlife. I believe my time is now. It is limited, but like a pile of clay, ready to be molded by my hands. I choose to live life without any regrets. I am satisfied at the end of the day if I know I treated others with respect, did the best I could, and let my friends and family know I love and appreciate them. If I do all those things, I truly have no regrets and I know that if I don’t wake up in the morning, or if I experience the loss of a loved one, I did the best in what I could control.
In contrast, while I have found physical death easy to reconcile, I’ve had difficulty in settling with emotional death. The loss of my relationship with my mother, my divorce from my ex-wife, and the subsequent loss of my home we built together as well as thousands upon thousands of dollars lost in the divorce, as well as the loss of my job and career, have been a challenging pill to swallow, even to this day. I’ve come to the conclusion that I have been able to reconcile in my mind that my life and physical death is both finite and expected. These events that resulted in emotional death were unexpected and I’ve found myself continually grieving for the loss of my expectations. Though I want to live without regrets, I’ve come to realize, that in some regard, I still have some concerning these emotional deaths.
What I wanted to be, will not, and can never be. I can’t change the past but I have to find a way to realize that things that were not, shall not, and never will be. We must allow ourselves to grieve because whether death is emotional or physical, we need to define what the event or person means in our lives. We have to find acceptance and understanding of what has occurred, where we are to go, and what the legacy of the death represents. And we can’t live with regrets, either for the future, in facing our own physical death, or in the past, when reliving emotional deaths.
When the morning had come, the flowers were laid, there will be no more tomorrows, no more memories to be made, just a legacy to honor, for this was his death day.