Death. The word alone surrounds us in a veil of darkness and prods mercilesy at that tiny well of fear that sits at the core of our being. It's a sad word too - funerals, tears, final goodbyes. When I speak of death, I don't mean killing in wars or murder per se. We have been numbed to that by the ceaseless bombardment of the news and entertainment media such that it evokes little emotional response (unless, of course, someone is holding a gun to your head). But good old fashioned death, the one thing that none of us can escape, needs to be talked about. We need to get past the fear and sadness and learn to understand what it is and, most importantly, what it means to us as individuals.
We'll be talking a lot about that over the coming months, but I wanted to begin with a few important and fundamental concepts. I've read a lot about this subject over the years and these readings have shaped my views of life and death and helped me to develop a working model that can help people understand who they are and why they are what they are. Just as understanding death can help put your life in perspective, understanding your life can help you deal with your death.
What I want to talk about today is this...... We are all first born into a frightening world of noise, bright lights and a deep-seated dependency on others. When we are thrust out on our own, we are faced with the challenge of making a life for ourselves which forces us to think about what's important in life and, at a more fundamental level, about the meaning of life itself. What we won't think about, and can't deal with, is the idea of our own death. It is something we can't explain and don't really believe will happen, so we consider ourselves to be more or less immortal and then go about creating a role for ourselves (a life) that becomes, for us, the meaning of our lives. A meaning with no room for death. Think about it. If we didn't consider our chosen role, our job, as the most importent thing we can do, then why would we do it? Maybe its not just the job itself, but the things that your job provides- the big house, the new car, the fancy clothes, or maybe just a simple life. What ever it is, we throw our heart and soul into it and when it's finally gone, at the end of our time, we are lost and we begin to look at death as a cheat - an end to something we thought would never end. Surprise! Fooled ya!
Ever since my initial cancer diagnosis, I've thought about my death and, because I did, I am much better able to face it now. I realized very quickly that death was both an end of sorts and a great equalizer. That all we have accumulated and all we have accomplished at our day-to-day jobs really meant nothing in the big picture. That if we hadn't been there to do our jobs, then someone else would have done them - maybe just as well. Supporting a wife and children is a much different proposition. For me, it was meaningful and worthwhile and something I could take pride in when I died. And while my family will miss me when I'm gone, they will go on and hopefully lead meaningful lives of their own. While it took a long time to get there, I realized that doing good, helping others and generally being a good person was what life was all about. And if I was really lucky, maybe I could leave something behind that could continue to help others. A real legacy. While not a necessary goal, it's still a nice thing to do if you can.
Now, I didn't suddenly quit my software job and run off to join the peace corp (I still had a family to look after), but I did start to leverage my cancer experience to volunteer and speak within the healthcare community and to write. I like to think that this helped some people, as I hope this blog will.
So I honestly believe that openly thinking about my death made me a better person. But I also don't believe that very many people do this. If they did, if we all did, then we'd all have a better idea of what's important and, consequently, what isn't. Perhaps the world could be a better place for many more people.
So think about it. Think about your own death and put your life in its proper perspective. I did and it made a huge difference in my life. And I think it will help me greatly in the months to come.
I just wish it wasn't so damn soon!
Let me know what you think!