It may not be the cheeriest subject to start the month with, but I believe failing to talk about death is doing a disservice to the gift we’ve all been given; that of life.
Death is a part of life. It happens every second of every day and will continue to do so, whether we talk about it, address it, or engage with it or not.
November is the month the church asks us to pray for the dead, but outside of religious settings, in day-to-day life, it’s easy to avoid talking about what is inevitably going to come to us all. Death is not really a conversation-starter and when we see and hear about it on the news, we often feel removed from what is going on.
Up until the age of fifty I felt immortal, invincible. I went to funerals and thought, “this isn’t going to happen to me,” and then it very nearly did.
A death sentence
I was given a death sentence by an oncologist – just six months to live. Looking back, I wasn’t afraid. I was shocked and deeply saddened that I wouldn’t grow old with my wife or be there to guide my family, but I didn’t fear what was to come.
I was, however, one of the lucky ones. My diagnosis turned out to be wrong and my death sentence was commuted to six months of recuperation from intensive surgery. I now wonder whether, had I not stared death in the face, I would have dealt with my recuperation differently. I look back on a tough period of my life, but one in which I felt intense joy and gratitude for what I did have. There was no mourning for all that I had lost.
Death enriches lives
Benedictine monks are instructed to ‘remember to keep death before your eyes daily.’ The reason: so that they can live life more fully, detached from the inevitability of death. Many stories from the early monks talk of an open and uncomplicated attitude to death and a more gracious appreciation of life.
I too live by this philosophy, starting each and every day with a twenty-minute meditation where I give thanks for the new day and everything that it brings. I commit to making it as enjoyable as possible, by appreciating the people and the world around me and doing the things that fulfil me and bring me joy.
By living my life in this way, I have very little room for negative emotions.
To fear death is to avoid living
If you are one of the many people who avoid speaking or even thinking about death, I ask you this; when has denial ever served you? A fear of death, in my eyes, essentially means you are afraid to live. If you change the way you look at death, it changes and instead of something to be feared, it becomes a reason to live every day as though it is your last. None of us know how long we have left, or when the death sentence will be served, but by fearing the inevitable it is likely we will live shorter and emptier lives.
So, talk about death, accept it, and make friends with it. Only then will you be free to live your best life.