Death — one of life’s few certainties — is rarely a topic we enjoy discussing or confronting in the slightest. In fact, the concept of mortality is one an overwhelming majority of people outright ignore. And why shouldn’t we? For a lot of people, death and dying aren’t viewed as a singular event but one that is preceded by pain and terror, or even worse for some: the unknown. The framing of death in this way has led to the phenomenon being twisted into some dark and evil thing that we personify as a Grim Reaper, no less. And, as deep rooted this mindset may be, all it would take is a simple conversation to flip the entire narrative.
To understand the concept of death as it is perceived in the present day and then go on to spread a message that will hopefully help my community, I conducted research and personal interviews to create a podcast on the topic of death and dying. And, I would like to thank those interviewees – Jai (13), Seth (20), and Toni (50) – for being so honest and contributing to this work. What started as a surface level interest turned into some of the most insightful work I have done and hopefully it can help those who need it.
To give some background on myself, I am a south Louisiana native who grew up in a devoutly Catholic family and this greatly contributed to my early feelings about death. Most people are scared of the events that cause one’s death, but growing up for me, it was always what came after. This final judgement of all my actions to decide whether I spend eternity in complete bliss or torturous agony was, little to say, terrifying. But, I have to admit to being in the minority with this one, as a great deal of research exists that prove a significant correlation to not being worried about what comes after death to the belief of an afterlife. This was shown perfectly in the interview as both Jai and Toni confidently stated that they are “not worried about that” and will be “going to Heaven.” Now, 22 years old, I have since gone through a large shift in beliefs as thus have a much more position perception of death and what comes after.
To put it simply, the problem as it exists today is as follows: we as a society do not fully acknowledge the reality of our mortality, nor do we celebrate death as much as we do life. That is to say, life still continues after one’s death. And those that have dealt with loss know all too well that processing a loss can be extremely difficult. This is a matter that can weigh heavily on an individual – dying or grieving – and their feelings about death. Most, like Toni, express feelings of concern for their loved ones after their eventual passing; and how they want the living to not be weighed down by grief and loss, but to go on and celebrate life.
“It matters not how a man dies, but how he lives. The act of dying is not of importance, it lasts so short a time.”
– Samuel Johnson
As I stated earlier, most people’s fears surrounding death come from the unknown element of how it happens. Many would say they hope to “die of old-age” in their sleep as a way to put a light mask over the inevitable event but, unfortunately, that is medically impossible. We all die of something whether that be a stroke or heart failure, there will be some event that causes us to die. And I think we need to accept that. It is time we alter the narrative around death and stop using so much inflated language to placate our fears. Given the fact that we have the ability to frame anything however we want, it would be extremely beneficial to frame death as an unavoidable fact much like we do life.
These feelings about death and dying are most definitely valid and understandable, but what I think most people don’t think about is what happens during their final moments. Research has shown that our moments of death are not only pain-free but euphoric as our own brains begin producing psychoactive chemicals as it becomes more and more deprived of oxygen. This is the time a person would see their lives “flash before their eyes.” So, it turns out that death may be inevitable but by no means is it inherently painful.
“I don’t want to be in pain. I don’t want to feel it… I want to go peacefully.”
All these ways of shifting the narrative – removing the association with pain, embracing the possibilities of what comes after, and resting assured that their loved ones will find peace eventually – help us accept the phenomenon that is death and dying. This is not a topic to avoid in conversation with your family or something that should effect one’s outlook on the future or cause them anxiety in the present. Death is a fact of life and deserves just as much celebration and reverence as Life.
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