Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Facing Death

Like all other life forms that inhabit this planet, we humans live with a death sentence in our future; how and when that sentence will be executed is, for most of our life, a mystery but its certainty has a significant impact on how we live.  Many turn to religious faith, looking for strength in their time of crisis and drawn by the promise of eternal life.  Others focus on preventive health, determined to delay the onset of disease and its ultimate sequela.  Still others, inclined to accept the whims of fate, lead a carefree existence, willing to risk illness or injury in their pursuit of adventure.

Of course, those diagnosed with a fatal illness have a better idea of when death might occur.  While some develop depression and withdraw from their usual activities, others become highly engaged in their treatment, intent to extend survival as long as possible.  For most, the sentence of death focuses the mind, clarifying what is truly important in their life; dwelling on the past or on the future becomes less important and the benefits of living in the present are suddenly very apparent.

While everyone hopes to avoid pain and dependence at the end of their life, the fear of death itself varies widely among individuals; ironically, those who believe in a last judgment and a vindictive God have the most to fear.  Though many hope to die suddenly (preferably in their sleep), the awareness of one's approaching death has certain advantages; granted the time to deal with financial matters, achieve personal goals and, most importantly, to express one's personal feelings to family and friends can have a calming effect on what might otherwise be a stressful experience.  For those of us who accept death as part of life, the chance to celebrate the latter is a fitting way to bow out.