How to Stop Being Afraid of Death
I think about death quite often. I’m not sure if it is the case for most people and I don’t remember very well how I got the concept of death but I know I was very young.
My first experience with death was probably when I was 3 years old and my uncle died. I don’t think I fully understood what was happening but I knew he had an accident and he was going to heaven so we will not see him anymore.
About two years later my grandma die. Then my grandfather (mother’s side) passed away when I was in seventh grade. I remember seeing his mouth and it looked like someone sew it. I don’t remember feeling much and we were not that close.
I have the impression that as time goes by the deaths around me start becoming closer and more relevant, more important and more heartbreaking. I believe it is the same for most of us and part of getting older.
But one thing is the tremendous pain of losing a loved one and another one is when you think about your own mortality.
When I thought about my own dead it used to feel like a pool of uncomfortable feelings, from being scared of the unknown to thinking about the things and the experiences that I would miss out, lose and the people I wouldn’t be able to share with anymore.
Being raised as catholic, I believed in the idea of heaven and hell when I was young, although that idea changed over the years.
The idea that there is something after death whatever it is can be usually more comforting that the idea of completely disappearing.
The idea of disappearing is the one that I always strived to grasp and acknowledge without fear.
It wasn’t an easy process but there were some things that have helped me to think about my own death and acknowledge my own mortality without becoming uncomfortable or afraid.
1. Writing my own eulogy or letters to the people you love: So far this has been the hardest but also the most satisfactory.
Many feelings that you haven’t addressed earlier may came out with this exercise.
What I did was to write a letter to be read during my funeral. The letter contained my perspectives of life and death and messages to the people I love.
Even though heartbreaking, it must be somehow comforting reading a letter from your passed loved one where they comfort you and the people who are still alive.
The pain of the survivors is realistically, one of the hardest parts of death.
Writing letters to my loved ones was painful and I cried in the process, but it also gives you perspective and an invitation to value every moment with them.
2. Thinking about it and making sense of it.
Most people don’t like to think about death, it raises uncomfortable feelings, uncertainty, fear and even pain. When I told some of my family and friends that I was writing my own eulogy or when I talked to them about memento mori (next point), many just thought I was plain crazy.
Some asked me why I was doing that or why I was so interested about death, and I could even sense fear in some of them, others just told me I was being depressing.
When you do something a lot, you get a little bit desensitized about it.
The more you talk about it, the more you think about it, the more you make sense of something, the quicker you can grasp it.
I remember thinking once about everything that I would miss out after I died, the new technology, new scientific discoveries, experiences, time with love ones.
I also remember thinking how scary the idea was of just disappearing and not existing, and then I realized that “I had already experienced how it was no existing”. I know the phrase doesn’t make sense, but what I mean is: if you live now, you missed out from living years and centuries, you simply did not exist until you were born, and that fact is almost irrelevant to you because you don’t even remember your first couple of months or years from being alive.
I read in a book that as far as we are concerned, we will all live forever.
If death means disappearing and there is nothing after death more than the decomposition of our body and the transformation of our energy, then as far as your personal experience goes, you will live forever.
Memento Mori is in my opinion one of the most beautiful and powerful teachings from stoicism, it means to acknowledge your own mortality. Remember you will die.
This mortality reminder helps us to be humble in the success and remain calmed in the failure.
It helps us to not get trapped in the problems of the moment. I find it similar, in a way to “This too shall pass” common phrase highly spread out now thanks to author Eckhart Tolle.
In the ancient Rome, during Roman Triumph (a celebration after the success of a military commander), the commander had a slave next to him, the slave’s job was to whisper “memento mori (remember you will die)” in the ear of the commander to prevent him from losing his senses and help him to stay humble.
In Meditations, a journal by Marcus Aurelius (that was never supposed to be public), he talks about nature (as human nature) and death.
“Death and life, honor and dishonor, pain and pleasure, all these things equally happen to good man and bad, being things, which make us neither better nor worse. Therefore, they are neither good nor evil”
Reading about what death means in different cultures and religions and what it meant for different civilizations helps to getting used to the inevitability of it.
4. Look around- Observe
Death is not an experience that we found rarely.
We see it every day around us, many times as a transformation.
We see dead animals in the road, we see the decay and deterioration of some trees and plants.
We see our love ones grow older and weaker.
We see the news, we heard of acquaintances or people that have passed away.
And most of those times we just accept the idea that it happens because death is the end of life as we know it, but also part of it.
The interesting part when you think about it, is that we are experiencing it as a transformation. You see generations passing away and new generations being brought to life.
Old tress falling to the ground and new seeds being planted.
Entire countries and continents changing, stopping being something to become something different. Even your own cells and atoms being renewed regularly.
If we are strict; death, even if there is none after-life, is just a transformation.
Your cells will decompose and will become again one with everything else, your atoms will become part of something else, and if we want to be romantic about it, we could say a part of you could end up anywhere, as well as the same part was probably once part of the stars.
5. Become more aware, grateful and mindful
Acknowledging death is a powerful exercise and philosophy to live by.
It is mindful to dedicate a time and a place for that. It is also very important to honor the present moment.
To be grateful for life and for having 1 day more, to express our feelings of love, appreciation and gratitude to the people around us.
Finally, the idea of thinking, acknowledging and accepting our mortality is an invitation to remember that our time is limited, and we need to make the most out of it.
It is an invitation to forgive and live in peace.
An invitation to strive to be a better person
Memento Mori – Carpe Diem
Remember you will die – Seize the day