Prepare to Die
The Stoics believed that having an awareness of death was what made life so sweet. It was a Roman tradition that when a hero was put upon a pedestal to be celebrated that another person would stand behind them and remind them that they are no different than those who are cheering him but “Memento Mori” roughly translated as “Remember you too will die.”
Conversations about dying and death are difficult and uncomfortable, although they are often very thought-provoking and healing. We never know when our last day will come and in the age of Covid, we may feel that our metaphysical, silver cord joining Soul to Body, may have had one more thread cut.
Working in an elder law firm, I spend every day preparing someone for their inevitable decline and eventually death. Some clients resist doing Powers of Attorney and are only focused on their Last Will & Testament. Deciding who gets your stuff after you have died is really the least of your worries, after all, you will be dead at that point.
Growing older, losing mobility, and possibly your mind, are all very real issues. But for some reason, we all expect to drop dead in our sleep. Death, in Western culture, is often quite a long process that might include a long chronic illness, varying levels of dementia, hearing loss, blindness, medication addictions, physical pain, and worse yet the emotional pain of loneliness. Not to mention hospitalizations, rehab facility time, financial stress, and caregiver drama. While even I don’t want to focus on the downside of getting older, I do want to acknowledge that aging and actively dying is probably seen as the most challenging and frightening experience most people will ever have. But I want to argue why that shouldn’t be the case.
Loss of Self
Obviously, surviving traumatic events can be much worse than dying from them. When I spend time talking to chronically ill or elderly people who have come to accept their death as a welcome event, I really get to bask in the radiant beams of their confidence. I’m not saying every person comes to the point where they are on good terms with Death, but many find peace with it and seem to glow. It also seems to be a conscious choice they made. They also have accomplished a great deal of internal work to emotionally arrive at that place that most people don’t know is even a thing.
Those few who have had the unlucky diagnosis to know their days are on a count-down have been given a gift of a deadline. This gives many people a unique awareness. A dying person can choose to do the work that is required to leave their body and move on to wherever it is they are going. Can you imagine that experience? It’s like the bus is waiting to take you on an adventure but you don’t know where, how long, or how hard it will be. The only thing you can count on is that you have to go alone and take absolutely nothing along (not even your body). Take a moment and imagine losing everything and everyone. And now imagine losing everything about yourself that you have come to believe to be YOU… That is a deep rabbit hole we can go down in another article.
The Stoics want us to remember what we will be leaving behind, it allows us time to consider what we have, to be present, and appreciative, and to master our emotions. Some people are terribly afraid of dying. Others are happy to be reuniting with those on the other side. Some people believe they will just cease to exist, and it is they who I’ve witnessed struggle the hardest when at Death’s door. But that too is a topic for another day.
Death & Tea is about honoring Our Beloved Dead, Death, and Dying, sharing stories of those who survived Death or watched them come, gather their ward, and leave in what seemed like a vacuum of silence. There is so much to explore and to learn in those moments and they are not accessible to many for obvious reasons.
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