The inevitability of death is a phenomenon that we all must experience. It’s not often that I think about this this idea…especially for myself. I have have lost some very close friends to death. These friends were in their early 20’s. And unfortunately, some of my relatives have passed away. These family members were at least in the later parts of their lives, and were able to live significantly longer. As hard as it is to determine how difficult and challenging some deaths are compared to others…that range certainly exists, and most of us can think of a particular person who isn’t here…who should be here…or who perhaps ‘deserved’ more time.
And how do we handle it when someone close to us dies? How do we grieve? When my close friend committed suicide at the age of 21, it truly stunned me. And it left me confused for quite a while. And even though I attended the funeral services…I never really believed that it took place. I’ve had some occasions where I think that it must have been made up…or that it was a bad nightmare of mine…and maybe he’s still here. For whatever reason, I never felt the closure with that. And closure is meaningful. Coming to some terms, and grieving properly is the most effective way of dealing with this significantly difficult process of loss.
I recently thought about the grieving process when I heard about the devastating shooting in Thousand Oaks, California. The families and community there weren’t just able to grieve properly…and for as much time as they needed. Many of them, soon after the shooting, had to be evacuated from their homes due to the impending fires in that part of the state. I was hoping that it brought the citizens together more so. I hope that they were able to drive to their friend’s or family member’s houses…and spend time talking, getting thoughts out, and allowing themselves to be emotional. It’s never fair when someone has to deal with such a malevolent act like the shooting…but to then be walloped with the threat of fire, and having to find another place to stay, seemed to be another level.
Individuals need time to deal with a death. They need their own time. They need time talking to others about their feelings. They need time talking to others about things other than the death. Grieving should be acknowledged and practiced carefully and deliberately.
While we are living, part of us is dying as well. Before our final death, we are constantly dealing with micro-deaths within parts of us. At a cellular level, we as a biological creature, are continuously going through a process where we are growing and repairing some parts of ourselves, while simultaneously leaving some of us to die. Even when we are doing something like learning, part of what we used to think dies off, and we take on this new knowledge as growth into a new person. We also know that physically, it doesn’t take long to notice how our bodies are starting to die off. The skin loses elasticity. The hair turns grey. The cushion in the joints is less vibrant. Our eyes don’t pick up what they used to. I’m 38 years old, and already deal with all of this. My mind still feels sharp as ever…progressing more even…but some of the physical body is ‘dying’.
A final thought for this difficult topic is the idea of regret. I don’t believe one can live totally without regret. I understand the ‘I wouldn’t be who I am today without all of my past experiences, therefore I don’t regret a thing.’ I get that. But that’s admitting that you’ve done the absolute best that you can in every aspect of your life. It’s not that I want to be a different person…by going back and fixing a variety of behaviors or experiences or thoughts that I regret. It’s that I accept that I ‘could have done better’ in particular areas in my past. I can acknowledge that I haven’t lived up to my utmost and full potential (I spoke about this in my December 3 piece, ‘God’). I don’t think anyone can say that. We are flawed in nature, and therefore come up short in some areas. We make mistakes. We say things we wish we could take back. We hurt people…sometimes consciously, sometimes subconsciously. Those things are to be regretted. That’s why it’s extraordinary and admirable to see someone consistently try to do the right thing, be the kindest person, follow their passions, live on their own terms, and consequently die on their own sword. Living like this will mitigate regret. It won’t get rid of it.
As odd as this may sound, I often think of how I will feel about my life when I’m on my deathbed. This isn’t a negative practice for me…it inspires me. I do this to help gain perspective in the now. I do it to detach from my current status, and to try to connect with ‘what will be the most meaningful’ when I’m there looking back. I can tell you for sure, this has allowed me to let go of certain anxieties and insecurities. It’s helped me identify how to more effectively structure my time. And it’s encouraged me to think deeper, reach for more purpose, and connect with others.
I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this for someone who is feeling depressed, sad or anxious. But if you feel comfortable enough to try, place yourself in the last days of your life and try to grasp onto what will be important to you in that moment. When you’re in that place, you’re going to have 2 foundational thoughts that I believe tapping into now, will give you incredible benefit. The first thought you’ll have is, ‘I never did that…or I didn’t do that enough…and I really wish that I did.’ That is regret. The second thought is, ‘I’m so happy that I did that.’ That thought is contentment, fulfillment, and true happiness. We’re all going to have both trains of thought. It makes sense to identify what those thoughts will be…and then, what those corresponding behaviors in the present would look like. Then, go and live in a way that would make your 90 year old self content and happy and fulfilled as hell!
Start right now.