Recently, my pet rabbit died. It’s times like these, when death is thrust upon us at close quarters, that we’re forced to stop and consider the impermanence of life. We can’t go on with the farce or hide behind illusions as blissfully when we’re faced directly with the reality of a future end to what we recognize as our existence.
Death is out there. You can’t run from it, in the end you won’t escape it. You can only live your life in denial, fear, or acceptance.
I’m a murder mystery novelist. I write about death all the time. But I’ve never lost someone to death; maybe I don’t really understand it. Maybe I’ve never been hit hard enough by it personally. But I understand loss. Everyone does to a certain extent. We all lose someone.
To be honest, I never really thought that mourning for the dead makes much sense. Death is a natural part of life, nothing to be afraid of, nothing to grieve for. The dead should be honored, their passing celebrated.
Grieve instead for the newborn. The dead are much safer, and happier, than the living.
In an unnatural or untimely death, when someone dies before they have the time to give all that they can, I can see a sense of tragedy because of what the world lost. But I still can’t move myself to pity for someone who has as I believe very really gone on to a better place. That trite phrase isn’t just a word of comfort, it’s the truth. I don’t care what your beliefs are; even science, in its limited scope, is beginning to get an inkling of the realities of that truth.
I’m all for paying respects to the dead, but not if it means a lot of somber, unnecessary grief that typifies death as something frightening, tragic, or otherwise bad, when it’s plain for anyone who looks to see that it’s on the contrary something quite good. I respect the dead for what they give to this world, and what they’re now giving to a greater one.
To me, the only sadness I can see in death is loss.
If someone you love has died, then of course you understand loss. But I’m here to tell you, even if it’s not what you want to hear, that mourning for someone’s passing is on the whole more selfish than it is an act of love.
Don’t get me wrong. I sympathize with the emotions of losing someone to death, even though I haven’t experienced them per se. And of course I can understand why anyone would wish their late loved ones were still with them. But believe me when I say that up there somewhere, burning brightly amongst the stars, there’s surely a soul looking down and mourning your life. They miss you as much as you miss them. But they’re not wishing they were alive again, they’re wishing that you were dead with them. Now they know by experience how much better “death,” as we crudely put it, really is.
If you really love someone you’ve lost, hard as it may seem, just letting go of your own longing for them and being happy for them where they are now, that’s love, that’s the secret of appreciating death.
People die, it’s a part of nature, it’s a part of growth. They’re becoming something more, something higher. You would regret that?
To Die, to Sleep
Last Halloween in Crooked Ways I published a quirky little piece called Pons ad Sapientium, that is, “The Bridge to Wisdom.” I feel that’s the best way to describe death, at least as I see it. I’m going to borrow a few paragraphs out of the mouth of my protagonist, because I can think of no better explanation:
“Death is a beautiful thing,” I continued. “It happens to us all. If you’re afraid to die, your life can’t be worth much. You must not be living it to the fullest.”
“And that would be?” she prompted.
“Spending life looking to something higher than it.” I pulled her back to the path and led her to a statue of an angel who stood in a silent vigil over a grave. She gazed down with a soft, compassionate face, frozen forever in stone. “Look at her. She’s not bleak, is she? A little mossy maybe, a little dirty, but that just makes her venerable. Sleep here, and the angels watch over you. You might be one of them in your dreams, even.” I kneeled down to read the engraving. “‘Jennifer.’ I can’t even make out the rest. Could be one of those names with fourteen consonants and two vowels. She probably choked to death on her food while trying to pronounce her name.”
I rose and condensed the whole cemetery with a sweeping gesture. “They’re not less than we are, they’re something more. They have a lot to teach us if we only listen. They’ve found what we don’t have–the nirvana we’re not meant to live to see. We have to die to find it. They’ve all forgone petty illusions, letting go of earthly vacuities, to reach for something real and boundless and sublime. What good is this transient vanity that is reality, when we could have eternity? Every body in every coffin has embraced something greater, something more permanent, something more–beautiful.” I looked at her and appealed, “You see it, don’t you?”
She smiled brightly, a little sheepishly. “Yes, I do. I’m sorry I didn’t before.”
We proceeded along the path, and I proceeded along my lecture. “They’ve only shuffled off their mortal coils. ‘To die, to sleep; to sleep: perchance to dream’ . . . yes, ‘ay, there’s the rub; for in that sleep of death what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil, must give us pause: there’s the respect that makes calamity of so long life.’ Amen. Maybe that’s why we fear death. Because it’s a step into the unknown, the most potent of fears. But it’s still childish. Are we afraid to sleep at night because we dread our dreams? Are dreams anything to be afraid of? Dreams are beautiful things! Why should we waste the day being afraid of the night?“
What do you think? How do you feel about death and loss, and how do you deal with it?