Death is the only certain event that each of us will have to face at some point in our life, yet most of us give little thought to this prospect until it threatens either ourselves or a loved one. Paradoxically death is also the one event in our life that we know so little about. Not only do we live our life without knowing when and how we are going to die, but neither can we really be sure about what happens to us following our death.
Not knowing is a condition that the human mind often has great difficulty in coping with and it is this and a sense of powerlessness in relation to death that can often stop us from facing and accepting our own mortality. Yet facing the fear of dying was one of the most important initiations in the ancient wisdom schools, for it was recognised that we cannot be fully alive until we have done so.
In my work with death and dying I have found that people’s response to their own mortality varies considerably. There is often a great deal of denial and fear around it. A fairly common response has been that it is morbid to talk about death; that if you don’t know what is going to happen why bother to bring up the subject. We have sometimes found alongside this a superstitious belief suggesting that in talking about death you are actually bringing it forward.
Many people are not in touch about death. They may even block death out as if to pretend, by not thinking about it, it may never happen. A variation of this comes from those who openly admit that they are going to die one day, without grasping the true meaning of this. They live their lives as if there will always be a tomorrow, and the idea of that not being the case has never really entered their minds.
A totally different reaction to death comes from those who consciously fear it or in someway admit feeling uncomfortable about it. Death can be seen as an enemy for many different reasons. Some people are frightened of being ill and suffering both mental and physical pain. Other are frightened of letting go of everything familiar to them and venturing into the unknown. Still others are frightened they may be harshly judged or their faith may not be strong enough. Doubt can become a frequent visitor when facing death, as it is the greatest mystery known to mankind. As one person put it recently: “I want to believe in an all-loving God and Universe, but how do I know I’m not going to be judged and punished for not doing more with my life?” In addition we have come across a number of people whose belief in reincarnation is challenged by a doubt and fear that death is followed by a huge void or total non-existence.
Finally, there are a growing number of people who realise the importance of accepting and coming to terms with their own death long before the event. A highly motivating factor for this occurs when people are faced with life-threatening illness, which makes death a real and live issue for them. But why wait to be told you may only have a short time to live in order to reap the benefits that accepting our own death can bring us? The earlier we can accept the reality of death the more fully we can begin to live our life.
Despite being deeply rewarding, it’s not an easy subject to confront, which is why I’ve designed workshops to support you think about death in a safe and loving environment.
Christianne Heal and Adela Austin