Death Part I

My first experience with death happened when I was 5 years old.  Sadly my cousin who was 2 died in a trailer fire.  It is safe to say that I really didn’t understand what death meant.   Like many children I was a bit selfish, and perhaps somewhat used to a life where for the first 3 years I was the oldest grandchild and was likely doted upon, and I felt resentful of my younger cousin who always seemed to get first helpings of things like watermelon or cake, even though I was also hungry and, in my own opinion, more important.  It’s safe to say I did not care for her.  I remember distinctly my aunts and uncles sitting around looking quite sad obviously.  Then I opened my big mouth and said “Well who cares no one will miss her anyway.”  To this day I don’t know why I didn’t get a severe beating, but I am thankful for the wisdom of my elders for recognizing that I was only a child and didn’t understand.  One of my uncles simply looked at me and said “Well what if you died, and we said ‘Well who cares no one will miss him anyway?’ “  The words made me understand, as is often the case, when we turn the things we say upon ourselves we can sometimes see their true measure.   To this day, I find it hard to forgive myself for uttering those words.  Understanding grief like I do now, even coming from a 5 year old, those words I uttered had to hurt.  I’ve carried those words for a long time, and if there is no sympathy for a foolish child, then at least know that I truly believed it shaped me into a more compassionate adult.

I can safely say that at the time, however, the gravity of death wasn’t something I completely understood.  It’s not easy to really understand when you’re very young and have so much growing yet to do.  The world is full of adults and so it seems impossible that you won’t at least make it to the age of your parents or aunts and uncles.   I’ve always liked the saying “death is an important part of life”.  Because ultimately it’s true as paradoxical as it sounds.  We have a beginning and an end.  And while we are barely conscious at the beginning (which is really a shame to be robbed of remembering that experience of coming out into the world for the first time), death is something we are all too conscious of.

One could argue that life and death are the only true things that we know in this world.  We are alive in this plane of existence and eventually that life will end.  Now many believe in an afterlife and that’s fine, but ultimately that requires faith, but I believe that everyone, somewhere at their core, has a seed of doubt about the afterlife, even if they don’t want to admit it.  Few people can freely give up their life here for the afterlife.  Those that do still believe that their last earthly act will have an impact of value in this existence, and thus are still, at least in some sense, grounded here.  Of course many of those people one could arguably say are crazy (i.e. suicide

From http://www.mediabistro.com

bombers).  Others, while heroes, when they give their life they do so to preserve it for others and I would argue the afterlife is still not their primary goal.  It seems to me that notions of an afterlife regardless of whether they have a punitive or rewarding nature are simply but another to try and cheat the evitable.  Non-existence.

As natural as death is, it is clear that all life fights it.  The will to live and survive is in every creature, and as humans our awareness of death means we are much greater fighters than many other species.  Life is the battle against death.  In any other situation one is unlikely to enter any battle they know they will lose, but this battle is one we never asked to be in, one that we have to fight, and so all we can do is make the best of it.  It does no good to focus on this inevitability, when you do life becomes much more pallid.

I think it’s also interesting though that when you don’t worry so much about death, you start to see that survival really only involves living.  And that if you focus on how to live better, then you start winning that battle against death in a much more meaningful way.  You will still lose in the end, but you are at least fighting with honor and dignity.  The value we place on life (not only our own) has a lot to say, I believe, about how we behave in this world and this will be the subject of a later blog.

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5 thoughts on “Death Part I

  1. Swarn,
    Great write up and thought provoking, particularly this phrase you wrote and I have often thought about as I worked with so many living in fear
    You wrote: *when you don’t worry so much about death, you start to see that survival really only involves living. *

    when one lives and fears the inevitable of death, one never truly abandon themselves to living fully; for there is too much fear encasing them.
    Asking those, “what is it you fear about death, did you fear being born? And how do you know yes or no to either questions.”
    Most answered “the way they might die” that is a good consideration, however this limits a life time of wondrous experiences.
    Nonetheless, you writing did spur something deeper in me, do or do not children have a different more simple concept of death? Maybe accepting it more than adults and with the innate ability to feel, not thinking or articulating, “Ok that is over, can we move on and what about the living, like me. I don’t know how to take care of myself yet in this realm of existence. That person is dead, we are still living.”
    A child can not articulate this fully, however so many times I see this as their action of simplistic knowing and moving forward.
    Adults grieve for their own loss of the person who might had died, not for the person who is gone, rather the relationship that is now gone from their own lives.
    We miss the person or animal or life that has been currently taken, in some fashion out of our lives, ergo grief – for some.
    As a military child, often call BRAT which is an acronym, grieving was seldom part of our lives. Also, long term relationships, so I looked at life as moving along and adapting to the new adventures. And looked upon death the same way, until my first Rottweiler died.
    The grief was, I missed his presence and the fun ways of life he brought to mine. This help me understand the grief process, that I in fact was not willing to let go of and move forward.
    It is a very interesting subject to study humans and their actions up.
    Nevertheless, it is good that you had compassionate grown ups to not admonish you for a simple child way of looking at life. But I think you judge yourself harshly according to the milieu of thought promulgated by the masses.
    You were a child who most likely did not know your cousin that well, the relationship had not affected you in a deep sense of longing and experiences. So why miss him.
    While it is horrible your cousin died in a fire, that is heinous endings. Was the grief of the adults more due to the venue of death? Of missing the child they knew playing around whom they loved.
    Yes, you promoted more thought on my part. But as I have learned to know you, I think you would had been the conscientious person you turned out to be in life, whether someone chastised for your thoughts as a toddler or not.
    Fearing the inevitable is fearing ones’ current moment; absolutely none productive and needing a fresher out look on life.
    Tata and thank you
    MicheleElys
    and thank you for following my blog

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    1. Thank you Michele for your kind words. Once again I find we agree on many things. In regards to the death of my cousin, I don’t want to give the impression that this is some painful regret. Even things that we come to peace with, we carry them with us, and I think it is pertinent that it is one of the few clear memories of my young life. And yes it is true that my compassion perhaps would have been present otherwise, but the incident did remind me to always reflect and put yourself in other people’s shoes. Perhaps I had already been learning that from family and that’s why the words at that moment had an effect at all. It is hard to say.

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      1. Swarn,
        I think what we both may resonate to, and I will stumble on these words for what I am conveying is deep the recesses of knowledge coupled with acceptance… is that we do move on with memories in somewhat of intact to our perceptions and personal experiences. I did not read this moment of your life, was anything other than a moment in life you are sharing.
        BTW, my first name is MicheleElys,,, nothing other *~) all too common of a mistake. somedays i find that interesting other days, well……… life long project of tolerance lolol
        I think we have similar backgrounds of agreement due to our thirst for “all sides of knowledge” and not to see life as narrow and one doctrine. This I have found common with atheists and agnostic or other than doctrine belief type persona. Even that sentence is limiting in context – but not writing a philosophical book here 😉
        Nonetheless it is nice to hear your side with a little twist and slants to broaden my views.
        Thank you!

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  2. I think people spend far too much time worrying about dying when they should be concerned about how they are living. It’s as true today as it was when Mel Gibson spoke it in Braveheart, “Every man dies. Not every man really lives.”

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