On Death

Death is some­thing I think about often. It might be my anx­i­ety dis­or­der, but most days, the thought enters my mind, Am I dying?” I mean, tech­ni­cal­ly, the answer is always yes. We’re all dying every day. The pan­dem­ic makes this that much worse. Add to that my no longer being reli­gious and, there­fore, no longer believ­ing what I used to, and you’ve got your­self quite the cock­tail of anxiety.

I’m bare­ly begin­ning to explore how oth­er peo­ple view death. It was­n’t some­thing I gave much thought to for most of my life, and I arro­gant­ly thought that any­one not belong­ing to my reli­gion was with­out hope when it came to death. See, I thought I had all the answers. That death is tem­po­rary; that it’s like sleep—you’re asleep one moment and then awake again the next.

Reli­gion can be excep­tion­al­ly com­fort­ing in that way. I did­n’t think about my mor­tal­i­ty or what the future entailed. Most belief sys­tems con­vince you that you nev­er die.

But I don’t believe that any­more. And it’s tough. I feel as if I’ve been robbed of some­thing. The after­life was always rep­re­sen­ta­tive of an ide­al life. A life in which I was per­fect­ly healthy, I had a home with­out a mort­gage on the beach some­where, and I could enjoy my life away from the suf­fo­cat­ing grasp of capitalism.

I don’t mean to be reduc­tive, but believ­ing in an after­life is kind of like believ­ing in San­ta Claus. It would be fan­tas­tic if it were real, but there’s just no evi­dence to prove it fac­tu­al. And hon­est­ly, it’s hard for me to accept it. It is the real­iza­tion that there is no per­fect life, and that just as so many before me, one day I will cease to exist and my life will be over.

But truth mat­ters to me, and from my research, this is the real­i­ty. Liv­ing in truth means accept­ing dif­fi­cult things that defy what I thought to be true. And I don’t want to be dog­mat­ic about it either; I don’t know 100 per­cent what will hap­pen when I die. But com­ing to terms with the final­i­ty of life also gives it a beau­ti­ful new pur­pose. It helps me cen­ter and be present and appre­ci­ate every moment. It helps me remem­ber that I need to tell the peo­ple I love that I love them. It helps me be mind­ful of the impact I have on oth­ers and how they feel in my presence.

So while this new under­stand­ing of death has been dif­fi­cult (and will con­tin­ue to be), I’m ulti­mate­ly grate­ful that I have the chance to accept it and grieve it now. That real­i­ty will influ­ence every­thing I do with the rest of this won­der­ful life that I have. And that is a gift.