Everything that lives dies. Nothing in life is surer than that. Good, bad or indifferent, everyone dies—it’s the one and only promise that God has kept consistently throughout all time.
All that changes from one life to the next, all that we can control or influence is how we live.
I’ve been looking after my 97 year old mother-in-law and I constantly worry that something I do will hasten her death—if I take her for a walk she could catch a chill. I could hurt her somehow moving her in an out of the car. She could even get a painful rash if I wait too long between diaper changes or even if I let her sit in the same chair too long. I inadvertently caused terrible bruising when I tried to rub her feet once.
But still, I know that for all its risks and disappointments, she’d rather be participating in life than waiting quietly for death.
My mother was like that when she died. Luckily, my mother and I talked about it a lot before she died and I got a really clear idea of how she felt. She used to tell me all the time that she didn’t want to go through nine years of not recognizing anyone and not knowing where she was, like her mother did. It’s not just that she didn’t want to burden anyone, she also didn’t want to live in constant fear and confusion. She preferred to see what’s behind door number two.
That’s how I feel too. It’s not the afterlife that I fear but the last moments before death. It’s not the arresting of all future joys that saddens me, it’s the missed opportunity to do good things for the ones I love.
I think the same is true for many of us.
Sure, it’s true that we’re all just guessing about what’s behind door number two. All we can guess by is what we see on this side and what makes sense to us. My mother believed that nothing is on the other side—that our conscience simply stops as in sleep but without dreams and without waking.
I prefer to think of life as more like a video game—you fight like hell to keep from getting to the end, but the fun is in the challenge. If it’s too easy then you’ve done nothing. It doesn’t truly matter what score you get, because it was all a game to begin with. The only reward is in the game itself. However, how you play influences everyone’s experience and it’s more fun to make it fun for everyone. Also how you leave the scene influences the world you come back to—whether its really you that comes back in another body or if it’s a new soul you never met before—someone will be here in the world we leave behind and their pain and pleasure count as much as ours does.
It’s true that none of us really knows what happens after death and it really doesn’t matter much, because you can’t change it anyway. All you can do is make the most of your life. What will your sorrow and misery accomplish? Is that what your loved ones who’ve passed want for you?
It can be difficult to do, but you must let go of their passing—there’s nothing you can do but find new things to live your own life for, and to do as much with this life as you can. Being sad or fearful of death is a waste of time, it’s a waste of your life. It’s like booting a video game and then being afraid to push any other buttons.
Death will continue no matter what you say, do, think, or feel. You cannot defeat death, but you can best it with a well lived life.
Image by pareeerica
Mina Nichols is a Zen Theist and editor of Novotopia.com, who says “If ignorance is bliss, why aren’t more people happy?”