It seems such a cliche to write about death. At some point the coward parts of me wrote it off as ‘ too difficult’; lumped into the category of ‘things reserved for great writers’ along with ‘love’ or ‘sex’ or ‘faith’; not for the likes of me. But writing anything at all is like pulling teeth for me right now and ascribing so many important subjects as off limits isn’t helping.
Considering it’s such a major inevitability (and one of the few we all share), it still surprises me how little we all seem to speak or think or talk about death. Instead of coming together over our shared circumstances, what seems to result is a collective muteness. I know this isn’t a coincidence, but instead some kind of double bluff, which allows us to continue to live knowing death exists and yet never really having to accept it’s reality.
I’ve been thinking a lot about death recently because last week Dave died. It happened very suddenly. I was struck at how surprised I was that a person could be there one moment, a stable fixture in your world, and then suddenly not. It made me think about the difference between knowing something to be true and actually experiencing it’s reality. It made me think about not taking all this for granted.
Amongst his many acts of kindness Dave was one of the people who commented most on this blog and who supported me most in my writing. As someone whose confidence wobbles precariously, that was something I appreciated massively, something I will miss massively. I really wanted to write something to acknowledge that and to say thanks in some small way.
I’ve found myself returning again and again to a line I read in the book ‘Love’s Executioner and other tales of Psychotherapy’ by Irvin D Yalom (which is well worth a read btw):
‘though the *fact*, the physicality of death destroys us, the idea of death may save us’.
My reading was this: that when we realise, fully, that our time is limited, and that when we accept this, completely, we will stop obsessing over the minuet of our everyday problems. The idea of death will make us brave. Hopefully the knowledge that soon all that will be left of us is memories in those that live on will make us kind. And good.
Previously instead of freeing me, as Love’s Executioner suggested it might, in a period of intense depression and anxiety I let death haunt me. I felt no liberation, only a massive pressure to achieve before it was too late. And whilst I knew that somehow I had taken the wrong thing away with me, I didn’t know how to rectify it and so I went back to a place of not thinking about any of this, which psychologically felt much safer.
This isn’t something I can answer easily, or wrap up into a neat conclusion. All I know is it can’t hurt to occasionally revisit how you live with and balance these two things:
the knowledge of your own death and limited time
and the potentially immobilising panic that may bring.