We humans are in a peculiar predicament. As far as we can tell, we are the only form of life that is conscious enough to know we will die. Even if we believe in God and his divine beings, we mortals are unique in creation through knowing death.
Having said this, religious traditions generally articulate a belief in the eternal nature of life. These traditions were formed amidst the normality of early death that preceded our modern era. Death was often considered a gateway into a permanent union with the divine. Framing the experience of life in this way softened the meaningless misery of short, brutal lives. Mortal life was considered a prelude to the greater reality in which existence is more comfortable and secure.
Many people now doubt the possibility of life after death. Religious traditions have little evidence to offer for their speculations about eternity. Science has nothing to say about such a prospect. The idea that we simply come to rest after long and busy lives has become increasingly common.
Death troubles us most when life is cut short prematurely or when a span of life is sullied by constant turmoil and pain. Tragically, those who find their lives so sullied feel there is no point in carrying on, and choose to cut their lives short themselves.
The practise of medicine has also skewed our thinking about death. It single-mindedly battles against it rather than helps us to prepare for it. The last 3 months of life often involve the greatest effort to delay death, at the cost of more healthcare than we have cumulatively used throughout the rest of our lives.
If we are to make sense of health, we need to know how to think about death. Ideally, we should hope for a good death; a death that not only avoids unnecessary pain and struggle, but to which we are accompanied by those we love. We should spend some time in life ensuring we know how to deal with the hard choices at the end of life; the wisdom to know when to let go of our tight grasp on life.
In addition, we should allow ourselves to find space for the prospect of death in day to day life, where there are those around us who grieve. We cannot avoid the losses inherent in death, but we can create an environment in which death is more evident and more natural. If we pursue with others what we wish for ourselves, we shall be in good company to face the realities of death.
This section considers the tussle between choice, acceptance and resistance. Articles will provide thinking and information that may offer more confidence to contemplate a more satisfactory end to the experience of healthy being.