Death: Expect it more, fear it less

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, old time is still a-flying, and this same flower that smiles today, tomorrow will be dying

Robert Herrick,1648, To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time

We all experience death eventually, but nobody likes to talk about it.  “That’s morbid” or “Let’s not talk about that right now” are common things you hear when/if you bring up the topic of death.  I think that should change.  Not only to have a healthier outlook about it, but to help you live life to the fullest without necessarily “fearing” death.  

To quote the great stoic philosopher Epictetus “I cannot escape death, but at least I can escape the fear of it”.   I think this quote encapsulates exactly what I’ve been thinking about and what I’d like to bring to the attention of you, the reader. 

No matter what religion you believe in or even if you don’t believe in anything at all, you will experience death eventually.  That day could be today, tomorrow, months from now or hopefully, many years down the road.  Given the uncertainty of death, do you believe it’s smart to ignore the fact of death or do you think that it’s healthy to avoid the topic until you’re faced with it and forced to deal with it, whether it be with a family member or  yourself?  I believe preparing your mind around the topic of death can/will help you process it better when either yourself or a loved one’s time comes near. 

No I’m not talking about walking around all day just thinking about death or having a morbid fascination with it.  I’m talking about having a more “poetic” view of death, kind of a “smell the flowers along the way” sort of view about it.  I think most of us would agree that we all should spend less time worrying about things we cannot control and enjoy life’s moments more. 

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I’m 34 as of November 2020.  I’ve experienced a number of deaths and funerals in my life to include my mothers back in 2017.  Luckily for me, I prepared myself as much as possible by recognizing the warning signs of her health, lifestyle and other things.  I knew it wasn’t going to be long before she passed and I prepared myself for it.  Yes I was still sad, yes I cried, yes I still deal with it from time to time, but expecting it and coming to terms with the real possibility that it could happen soon helped my process.

No you can’t plan for unexpected deaths.  When someone young that you love is killed in a car wreck, or a disease pops up out of nowhere it’s going to be a huge blow to you emotionally, as it should, but you can still prepare your mind.   One way I recommend doing this is by knowing and expecting, in the back of your mind, that a tragedy is just around the corner.  This thought process isn’t morbid either, it’s a fact of life and accepting these facts of life, that is the human condition, will help you be caught just a little less off guard. 

I remember a conversation I had with my Aunt Kathy a few years ago.  We were standing on our family farm out in the country clearing out my grandfather’s things as he was moved into a nursing home.  She was obviously mentally and physically tired and being around her 70’s, rightly so.  I said something to the effect of “Life is crazy” and she told me “Gary, it doesn’t stop, it’s always something, that’s just life” and that made me think.  

Most people seem to have the mentality of looking forward to their golden years and retirement.  They imagine sitting on a beach with their spouse enjoying the ‘good life” that you worked so hard towards, I mean you deserve it after all, right?  The reality of this mentality is that 90% of the time this doesn’t come to fruition for most people.  If you’re lucky enough to make it to the age of 65+ you’ve been through lots of loss and hardships.  Loss of loved ones, setbacks, and at that age your time is most likely drawing to an end. 

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“Gary, you’re really starting to bring me down here” you might say.  That’s not my point though.  My point is that once you reach a certain age, it’s healthy to come to terms mentally that you will have to deal with death more and more the older you get.  You can either get depressed about this fact when it occurs and fear it until it does, or you can appreciate the time you have left on this earth and the time you have left with those you love.  

Grieving is healthy, and basically inevitable as part of our human existence, but recognizing the difference between grieving and sulking is equally important.  Let’s say a loved one dies that you cared about who also cared about you.  Do you think they would appreciate you wrecking yourself emotionally or drowning yourself in a bottle for weeks on end because of their passing?  Or do you think they would appreciate you processing it healthily and appreciating the time you did have together?  I know I wouldn’t want those that I love to be tortured by my passing to their detriment.  

I’ll leave you with a poem that I have quoted most of my life that I think about often by Robert Herrick written in 1648 titled To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time

Gather ye Rose-buds while ye may,

    Old Time is still a-flying:

And this same flower that smiles today,

    Tomorrow will be dying.

The glorious Lamp of Heaven, the Sun,

    The higher he’s a getting;

The sooner will his Race be run,

    And nearer he’s to Setting.

That Age is best, which is the first,

    When Youth and Blood are warmer;

But being spent, the worse, and worst

    Times, still succeed the former.

Then be not coy, but use your time;

    And while ye may, go marry:

For having lost but once your prime,

    You may forever tarry.

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