Dealing with Death
In today's society, we tend to ignore death. We avoid discussing it, thinking about it, and planning for it. It’s even been said that Americans believe death is optional. While we have enough experience to know death is inevitable for all living things, it does reflect our unwillingness to think it will ever happen to us.
Most of us barely give our own death a passing thought. Instead, we watch horror movies or read scary books. Grisly television shows do little to force us to confront our own death. So, what's behind this terror?
"Death can be terrifying." Dr. Todd Kashdan opened his article, "Confronting Death with an Open, Mindful Attitude", with those four painfully-honest words. He goes on to explain why death is such a scary thing for most of us. "Recognizing that death is inescapable and unpredictable makes us incredibly vulnerable. This disrupts our instinct to remain a living, breathing organism."
In other words, our fear of dying is a primal thing; it has kept us alive (as functional individuals and communities) for centuries. It's natural. Yet, the fear of dying does not serve our personal need for safety and if we are to live purposeful lives, we need to release the fear altogether. Dr. Kashdan argues that a mindful approach to living may be what's needed.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness has been defined as, "The state of active, open attention on the present. When you're mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience."
Awakening to the inevitability of your own death is liberating. You are no longer forced to manage the terror (as Kashdan described it); you are able to integrate death into the sum total of your life experience.
Preparing for Your Death
Death is a natural part of life. When you live with intention, which involves looking toward death and preparing for it, you dispel its power to keep you from living fully. In the online article, "One Day You're Going to Die. Here's How to Prepare for It", Thorin Klosowski outlines tasks which, when done mindfully, will help you to not only confront your own death but to exert a measure of control over it. While you'll never actually know how your life will end until the time of your death, your preparations will help you become comfortable with it. Klosowski’s task list includes:
Writing a will, notarizing it, and providing a copy for the person you've designated as executor as well as any other individuals you deem important in the settlement of your estate.
Designating a Power of Attorney and Living Will, two essential documents if you are ever unable to care for your financial, medical, or legal needs due to an accident or illness.
Making a detailed plan of your funeral or memorial service, which will help your survivors acknowledge and celebrate your accomplishments.
Organizing all financial papers including insurance policies, bills, mortgage papers, vehicle titles, and loan documents. It may be useful to consider adding a trusted family member to your bank accounts for ease of access after your death.
Securing your digital life for your survivors. Make sure to list all account passwords and usernames and let your survivors know how you would like your digital real estate (email and social media accounts) handled after your death.
Death is Inevitable. Get Comfortable with It.
Centuries ago, Buddha made the inevitability of death clear to his followers. "A place to stay untouched by death does not exist," he said. "It does not exist in space, it does not exist in the ocean, nor if you stay in the middle of a mountain." Death surrounds us. It's in the falling leaves of autumn, just as the promise of new life follows in the spring. If you don't work to really get in touch with the reality of your death, you will never be fully satisfied with your life. Chances are good you will be compelled to work against death with the latest diet or youth-oriented scheme. When endlessly and ineffectively trying to become victorious over death, you stop living fully.
"What is Mindfulness?", Psychology Today, 2014.
Kashdan, Todd, Ph.D., "Confronting Death with an Open, Mindful Attitude", Psychology Today, 2011.
Klosowski, Thorin, "One Day You're Going to Die. Here's How to Prepare for It", 2013.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Mind of Clear Light: Advice on Living Well and Dying Consciously, 2004.