“Let’s talk about death” is certainly not a joyous way to begin or end your day, but bear with me. This won’t end morbidly.
There are three attitudes that I’ve generally observed when someone talks about death:
- Evasion: You ask your mother about your sick grandma. “Ma, what happened to grandma? How is she doing?” To protect you, your mom lies, “She’s just under the weather. Everything is fine, child!” I observed this a lot growing up. Even when my own father was going through medical troubles, he wouldn’t reveal it. He would evade the question masterfully. “Appa, where are your blood test results?” [Pause] “Oh the doctor’s office never sent me a copy; they just shared the results on a phone.”
- Fear: This is probably more common once you grow up. We fear death as if it’s a vile, unwelcome guest that’s robbing us of everything we love and care of. Who hasn’t heard stories of people sharing their greatest regrets right before they die? In fact, an entire book was written on this: The 5 Regrets of The Dying. The way death is portrayed in movies and media — with violence, grief, and bloodshed — it’s natural that we fear it.
- Apathy: And then there are the people whose life mantra is YOLO. They don’t think about nor talk about death. Not because they’re evading it. Rather, they think, “We’re all gonna die anyway. Why bother worrying about it? Let’s make the most of every day.”
I found a fourth attitude in a book I began reading a few days ago: The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying.
This is how the author, Sogyal Rinpoche, describes the fourth attitude,
“Death is neither depressing nor exciting; it is simply a fact of life.According to the wisdom of Buddha, we can use our lives to prepare for death. We do not have to wait for the painful death of someone close to us or the shock of terminal illness to force us into looking at our lives. Nor are we condemned to go out empty-handed at death to meet the unknown. We can begin, here and now, to find meaning in our lives. We can make every moment an opportunity to change and to prepare — wholeheartedly, precisely, and with peace of mind — for death and eternity.In the Buddhist approach, life and death are seen as one whole, where death is the beginning of another chapter of life. Death is a mirror in which the entire meaning of life is reflected.”
Instead of evading, fearing, or being indifferent to death, Rinpoche urges the reader to accept death while we’re alive and use the knowledge of acceptance to prepare for it, by living a life that is fueled with meaning.
In my case, I’ve thought about the death of my loved ones significantly more than I’ve thought about my own death. I feel paralyzed with fear when I think about the death of the people I love; tears stream down my face before I finish a thought. But, reading this book is giving me a chance to view death differently.
I’ll share more learnings on here as I keep reading it.