In the many, MANY years that I have lived on this planet, I have been able to observe things, some of which have very much stood out to me as, shall we say, “interesting.” One of those things has to do with how people respond to death. I have noticed how people of varying faiths will refer to “heaven,” or at least their version of a “heaven,” as being wonderful and containing all the ingredients that are important to whatever culture it is that is viewing it. Yet, when the time comes for these folks to die, they often want to run from death.
So why is that? If “heaven” is so wonderful, why is it that people want to run away from it? I have my theories, and they are only my theories. You can decide if any of them fit for you.
Theory 1: Sentiment and Nostalgia. When we or someone we know is dying, there can often be a wee little hang-up called Sentiment, which traps our minds into what might have been, or another wee little hang up called Nostalgia, which traps our minds into what always used to be. These two things mess us up even if someone is not dying. In life itself they trap us into a delusional version of reality, thus not allowing us to accept things as they are. But when it comes to death, well, it makes some folks want to hold on with an iron grip. When this happens, people are unable to accept the inevitable. The truth is that none of us are getting out of here alive. The sooner we can accept that fact, the sooner we can get on with what is important as death approaches…things like having our affairs in order, telling those we love that we love them, and telling those who have been a royal pain in the keester all our lives to chuck off.
Theory 2: Guilt. Often religions will have a “moral code” that is used to guide a person toward right action in life. But step off the moral code, and you risk the salvation of your soul upon death. The funny thing (or not so funny thing) about this is that the moral codes were often put in place thousands of years ago, thus do not consider the changing times or the evolution of us as a species. What was considered absolutely sacreligious (wearing clothing of blended materials, for example) way back then is quite commonplace now. Yes, there are some things that are age-old that might still apply (murder, for example), but often it is not those things that hang people up. They feel guilty about things like straying from their cultural upbringing, or leaving an unloving relationship, or shoplifting as a child, or telling a lie (even if it was to save someone else from extreme hardship). So, what this does is set a person up for thinking that they are going to be punished for whatever the “crime” was…often from 20+ years ago. Thus, they let themselves torture themselves as they struggle for their last breath.
Theory 3: Spiritual Challenge. Everything dies, eventually. But humans often get caught up in the delusion that if they care about someone, then that person is “just not allowed to die.” They will do everything in their power to keep a person alive, even if that person is hooked up to a machine for extended periods of time, because they are certain that “God cannot have him/her.” It becomes an ego trip of fighting with a deity. (If deities do exist, you can be sure that we humans would not have a chance in a fight.) Or, on the other side of this coin, there are those who lose their faith because “God took him/her from me, thus causing pain.” They think that if a God that they have believed in can do such a thing, then it is not a God that they want to believe in anymore. This is somewhat of an infantile approach to faith. If you are a believer, then you must also accept that, as a believer, you cannot possibly know what “makes God tick,” so-to-speak. Thus, you will never fully understand the motivations that God may or may not have. The entire stance of being a believer sometimes hinges on faith that is somewhat blind. Not blind faith in other people, but blind faith in the unknown aspects of whatever deity you are deciding is the one for you. So, you cannot have, for example, a belief in a vengeful God and then act shocked when your God takes away someone you love. But you can, if you choose, decide to reconcile the idea that God may not be as omniscient as you first thought. And that leads one to recognizing the difference between an “Act of God” and the possibility that we are also simply biological beings that can die for a variety of reasons. If you can reconcile this within yourself, you will be much closer to finding your way through death experiences with much more grace than was previously experienced.
How we view what death is has a great impact on how we will respond to the dying process. I cannot speak to this on behalf of anyone other than myself. For myself, death is a process that is both biological and spiritual. The physical temple of the body, for whatever reason, begins to shut down. As life slowly drains away, there are neurons firing around in our brains. As that happens, we become consciously aware of many things, all at once. We become aware that we are, in fact, dying. We become aware that we are made up of a bunch of atoms that are beginning to shut down. We become aware that we are also a part of everything in the Universe and thus we will return to the Universe. Every star, every galaxy, every speck of dust is a part of us, and we are a part of it.
The most important thing to remember, however, has nothing to do with our views of what happens when we die. The most important thing to remember has more to do with what happens after we are gone. And that is the simple truth that those who love us will, indeed, miss us.
“Facing your fears is hard. Staying somewhere you don’t belong is even harder. But nothing compares to the pain of getting to the end of your life and knowing that you let fear stop you from doing the things you truly wanted to do.” ~Justin Gasparovic