Why Westerners need to learn how to die

Recently, a childhood friend of my family died of breast cancer. It was sudden. It was unexpected.

On her Facebook page posted on August 14th, she told her friends and family to support the fight against breast cancer and that cancer sucks. She was only in her early 30s and left behind 4 children and a husband.

The idea that her parents outlived their eldest daughter hurts my heart.

As little children, she and my sisters used to sit outside on the bench talking about death. According to the religious belief that we grew up with, Theravada Buddhism, we were indoctrinated with the idea of reincarnation. What we do in this life is very important if we wish to live a rich life in the next. We were taught to take care of our parents, honor our elders and do not harm any animals. We weren’t necessarily prepared for death but we had an idea of what it is. It is out of the respect of our ancestors that we do not talk about it.

Why we should talk more about death

“Death is psychologically as important as birth, and like it, is an integral part of life. As a doctor, I make every effort to strengthen the belief in immortality, especially with older patients when such questions come threateningly close. For, seen in correct psychological perspective, death is not an end but a goal, and life’s inclination towards death begins as soon as the meridian is passed.”
— Carl Jung

Let’s face the truth, we all will die. We can exercise 7 days a week, consume the mandatory nutrients for our bodies, get enough sleep, not smoke, avoid drinking but these are all temporary shields against the forces of death. We’re limited beings and the illusion of immortality has created a sort of anti-progression to openly have a discussion about death that is indeed all our destination regardless of status. Fear is a very strong emotion and putting fear and death together will give us the need to protect ourselves from threat and harm. The more that we talk about this, the more the inevitable becomes acceptable.

Our views on death are outdated

“Even ‘thinking’ of death’ is publicly considered cowardly fear…The One does not allow the courage for anxiety of death to rise.”
— Heidegger’s commentary on The Death of Ivan Illyitch

The industrial revolution affected the way that we work and especially the way we live. In comparison to the early 1900s to today, we’re living longer. The normalization of death in regards to watching a loved one die from something simple like the flu was a part of life to families in the early 1900s when the worst flu outbreak occurred in 1918. The advancement in medical technology not only eliminated the possibility of us dying of preventable diseases but also planted the idea that we can live forever and we’re doing so with the introduction of genetic engineering.

The fear of insignificance has added the fuel to the idea of immortality which has pushed us further away from changing our views that death is some kind of inconvenience. In Western societies we largely believe that we need to do something extraordinary before we die. This creates an existential crisis with symptoms such as anxiety, that we’re not doing enough for this world before we depart, and so the idea of death is not only fearful but not wanted.

Accepting death will make you happier

“Do not act as if you were going to live ten thousand years. Death hangs over you. While you live, while it is in your power, be good.”
— Marcus Aurelius

Death is a reality, so why fight it?

My great-grandmother died at the age of 122 and she was happier than any millionaire driving a $200,000 car. She was the one that taught me that having a purposeless life was something that kept her strong and healthy. She did not stress about goals. She did not stress about having the newest and latest gadgets, she just existed. In her last days, she did not fear death and the acceptance of the “light” made her die peacefully among her family. She knew her time was coming and it is something that she can’t control. Her stoic attitude led her to live a fulfilling life.

It’s time that we as a human civilization, open our arms to uncertainty and die like we’re supposed to.

NOW READ: Scientists examine 2,500 cases of reincarnation and reveal it’s more common than previously realized


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