Dying is only a problem for the living

Max Edwards was sixteen when he was told he was dying. He was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He measured time in distinct chunks, focusing on events — a holiday or a party. In this article I explore that while he was dying, he died well.


Living and dying

From my rotting body, flowers shall grow, and I am in them and that is eternity. – Edvard Munch

I struggled to read this article in The Guardian newspaper. And yet it was inspirational and had stoic overtones:

I am sure the expectation of death is worse than death itself.

True, they say death is the worst single thing that can happen to you and given that I can’t trick myself into believing there is an afterlife, I imagine it leads only to an empty void, but I’ve found ways to accept such an idea. First, I look on my life, which I believe has been a modest success, and remember that it could not have occurred in any other way.

The only possible way I could have had my unique set of experiences is by living my life as it is, and that means dying when I die. Even if I’m wrong, and there has been more unhappiness than I care to remember (rendering my life “unsuccessful”), death — the absence of pain or pleasure — should then logically be seen as an improvement.

Living forever

We would like to stay alive forever, but everyone dies. It is natural. For me Stephen Covey was right when he said, begin with the end in mind. And here’s how he tells us to do that: imagine what we’d like people to say about us at our funeral. Do we want them to say that we were kind, or loving, or successful, or that we accomplished remarkable things? Whatever the answer is, that’s how we should live our lives.

Every moment of every day, starting right now.

It’s about what’s important in life, how you want to live, and how you want to die. Take the advice of Marcus Aurelius:

Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking -…

Scared of dying

It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live. – Marcus Aurelius

People get scared of dying because they imagine it be like being trapped in complete darkness. And while you’re in that scary place you’re aware that you’re trapped. Retaining consciousness despite being dead.

Think of it like this: during a deep sleep you have no awareness of anything. This is a better concept of death. It is a complete and eternal lack of experience, which isn’t a problem for the person who has died. Think of it like this; dying isn’t the end.

I don’t believe in an afterlife, not in the traditional religious sense of heaven or hell. But I do believe that what we think of as death is just a continuation of an ongoing process, without a real beginning or end. People included. In fact, what we think of as a person is just a part of the ongoing process of the world.

And when a person dies, they aren’t gone. The body dissolves into the soil. The soil promotes growth and new life. Their personality doesn’t end either — we remember them, and live lives inspired by them. Their legacy becomes a part of us, of our families. A part of all of humanity, just as they were a continuation of the legacy of the people who shaped them.

The loved ones who died are not gone. They are in all of us, in their kids and grandkids. In the culture and society, they helped to shape. In the work that they did, the DNA they passed on, the spirit that they instilled.

Dying is a problem only for the living. The people you leave behind after you’re gone will grieve. This is a comforting but chilling thought. Chilling in its finality but comforting as the dead are no longer in pain, or suffering.

Only the living must resign themselves the melancholy of heartbreak.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

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