One of the most difficult subjects to discuss or maybe the most difficult of all is the one of death. Death and love are the two common issues in every human life. Yet death instead of love remains most of the times an unbelievably difficult subject to see it in a clear way, to understand it and even more to accept it. Death is the proof that the most frequent, common to all human beings phenomenon cannot be acceptable even if we claim that we are prepared for it. The truth is that no one can be absolutely ready to experience death – their own death or someone else’s death.
The most difficult course during my bachelor studies in Psychology was a selective one (we were not obliged to follow it, it was our choice to have it or not) with title “Psychology of death and mourning”. I remember that I chose to take that course together with some other selective ones with more pleasant and optimistic titles which were about pedagogy, motherhood etc. I can still remember that it was the only course that I wanted to pass it in the first exam period, not because I was bored to read again the same stuff but because I had the feeling that I couldn’t read again all these incredible and unbelievable information regarding death. I have memories of myself crying for about two days before the exams. I cannot say that what I was reading was unpleasant. It was something more, something much deeper: It was painful. I was feeling pain while I was reading about death, I was full of tears when I was reading stories of loss of various people. The mourning which was coming out of the pages was enough to feel my bones “hurt”. Are there psychologists who choose death as a subject of their studies and job for their whole life? That is something that until nowadays makes me wonder and also admire some psychologists.
A mental health professional who is occupied with death is like an acrobat on a stretched rope. He/she should be completely balanced. If he/she makes one mistake the following result won’t be good. He/she should conserve his/her empathy to help the “broken” human being next to him/her and at the same time he/she should be emotionally completely out of this. Of course that is something that all the mental health specialists should do it, but a professional who chose to specialize in Psychology of Death cannot be as relaxed as others, he/she should always keep the balance.
The biggest problem regarding death is that you cannot find a beginning or an end to it. It is not like life which starts and ends in specific moments. Life can be bounded. Death cannot. Death is the completely unknown since no matter how much we say about it, basically we don’t know anything about nature of death. The only thing we realize is sudden appearance of death in our lives – or maybe not since death is here when there is no life and vice versa? Also “death is life” a quote says. But who can actually say what is death and where life ends in order to start the eerie era/area of death?
Most people don’t like the idea of death – not only the idea of their personal deaths but also the idea of other people dying. There are few who want to figure out more about death and everything regarding it, probably due to a personal internal need. Many people that want to “research” death issue don’t necessarily make peace with it. Maybe they need information in order to understand or feel the delusion of control upon the granted, the inevitable. “All that arises will eventually cease” Buddha said and contained dozens of different meanings in one phrase. Every time I read these words I simultaneously think two things. I realize the short duration of everything that begins, lives and ends and our eternal “naivety”(?) to forget the only sure data we have from the moment we get born.
My personal opinion is that death can be deeply analyzed only through philosophy. I don’t know if death has to do with something transcendental but I feel common social theories cannot describe not even the basics regarding death. In order to try understand death we need the absolute plasticity of heart, mind and senses and even then I don’t know if we will have taken a small step further. That’s why in the end death is a personal issue, while it is still a panhuman one. There is not right or wrong way to explore a phenomenon we practically don’t know at all. So, when you don’t know, when you don’t have any proof, what else can you do than philosophize? Even the work of psychologists who manage mourning and human existential anxiety of death is to try providing two “tools” to their clients: (1) A slight acceptance of the death phenomenon as a part/area/path/change/whatever you like of our existence and (2)a creation of a personal meaning which is capable to keep every individual satisfactorily distracted regarding inevitable end. “‘Thus that which is the most awful of evils, death, is nothing to us, since when we exist there is no death, and when there is death we do not exist” Epikurus said and in my opinion he seems to have a point. I will not “meet” death so it doesn’t bother me that I will leave. However when I will have to meet my beloved persons’ deaths, I cannot be sure what my reaction would be. And probably this is the biggest stress of my life and also one of the very few cases that my selfishness has an alibi. Unfortunately I am not sure if I could give to others what I madly ask them. Still I want to be gone first, I want others to remain here – at least as long as I am still here. After a careful consideration of this specific stance of mine I realized that nothing goes really wrong with me, I am simply selfish. My instinct of self-preservation has led me – until now at least – to believe that my “escape” is more preferable to happen (for me at least) earlier than the “escape” of other people around me.
My personal consideration regarding death is almost friendly and positive – what kind of distraction can I succeed if I see the whole subject negatively? I don’t know if all the wonderful –yes, wonderful – things that I read about life and death during my studies and after them played an important role to my strangely peaceful emotion when I am thinking about death. Some people imagine death like Charos (Death angel) with a black cape and a scythe coming and taking souls. Some others may imagine it different depending on what stories they heard or what beliefs they have. For me death has a simple, calm and maybe charming form.
“Death whispers into my ear ‘Live now for I am coming’” Virgil writes. That’s how I understand death. It’s like a good friend (as existentialists psychologists say) who warns us that our time is specific and limited. I believe that death is like a normal guy who is standing patiently outside of our houses no matter how long it will take. Since he is standing there we meet him every morning – it doesn’t matter if we “see” him or not – and he looks at us while he takes glances at his watch. With a big smile on his face and with a positive attitude he reminds us that we should hurry up, our time will end soon and we don’t know which of the next mornings will be our last one. Death will cross our doorstep only once, the moment that we have to go with him. Even if some people cannot see the positive characteristics in what I am describing until this line, I can assure you that there are a lot of them.
“Death smiles upon us all, all a man can do is smile back” says Marcus Aurelius. “Pressure” of death could be magical to our lives if we receive it in this way. “Give life to your days” said activist Dimitris Kontopidis in one of his speeches. There is not a greatest fortune in our lives than awareness of death! This awareness should be made an experience if we want to truly live, since William Wallace said “Every man dies, not every man really lives”.
I am ending this post with some of my favorite quotes regarding life and death. Have a nice day and above all try to live it!
“Death is the salt that gives life its tasty sting” Nikos Kazantzakis
“You have a mortal body, endeavor to leave behind an immortal memory of your soul” Isocrates
“It’s not that I’m afraid to die, I just don’t want to be there when it happens” Woody Allen
“A good death worth more than a meaner life” Cicero
“The funeral of a good man should not be accompanied by wailing and lamentations, but by joyful songs, because if he cannot be considered anymore alive, he has gone now for a life better than the current“ Plutarch
“Death is not extinguishing the light; it is only putting out the lamp because the dawn has come.” – Rabindranath Tagore
“The most important part of the book of life is the epilogue” Seneca
“Most people would rather die than think; many do.” Bertrand Russell
“There are worse things in life than death. Have you ever spent an evening with an insurance salesman?” Woody Allen
“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