1 May 2020

We live, we die; but how prepared are we to go?

Remember that scene from the 1994 romantic comedy-drama "Forrest Gump" where Forrest returns home to Greenbow, Alabama in the autumn of 1975 to visit his mother who was dying of cancer and where this exchange between mother and son took place?

Mrs Gump:  I'm dying, Forrest.  C'mon in, sit down over here.
Forrest Gump:  Why are you dying, mama?
Mrs Gump:  It's my time.  It's just my time.  Oh, now, don't be afraid, sweetheart.  Death is just a part of life; something we're all destined to do.  I didn't know it, but I was destined to be your mama.  I did the best I could.
Forrest Gump:  You did good.

How brave Mrs Gump was in the face of impending death.  Thinking aloud, I'm not entirely sure how I'd carry myself if I were in her position because, until not too long ago, I've never really given much thought to the subject of my own death - which is wrong because more and more frequently I'm finding that I recognise the faces that appear in the daily obituaries; acquaintances, friends, family.

The truth is, death isn't something many of us want to think about until such a time it is thrust upon us.  A friend or relative dies, and all of a sudden it becomes a subject that can no longer be ignored - at least not until we eventually get over the loss.

It's usually during this period of mourning that we begin to seriously reflect and think about our own mortality and the logistical implications in the event we too shed our mortal coil.  Have I drawn up a will?  Are premium payments on my life insurance up-to-date?  How much have I saved in the kids' college fund?  Will there be enough left to pay for my funeral?  You know, the practical stuff.

It usually takes a close shave with death before we even begin to
question our preparedness for our own passing.

Yet invariably after the grieving, we promptly and conveniently put all these "unpleasant" questions (and the subject of death) back in their place - out of sight on the farthest metaphorical shelf in the back of our minds; left there to fester until Death rears its ugly head again - never for a moment anticipating or accepting that the next time it does, it could be staring at us squarely in the face.

Which makes me wonder; why are we so unwilling to contemplate or even give a moment's thought about death other than in terms of the practical issues associated with dying?  For instance, why is it that only after we encounter an accident, a close shave with death or a health scare do we change the way we live our lives?  Or start to think if we've done or seen enough?  Or ponder if we've spent enough time with our family?

All too often, it takes such an event to befall us before we realise our priorities and start (or attempt to start) living the life we feel we ought to be living - which is kind of sad because putting off thinking about death until we encounter a close shave is a little ridiculous in my opinion.  After all, hadn't we known all along that our time on earth isn't infinite?

If we can plan for life, why can't we likewise plan for death?

Personally, I think the reason we don’t like to think about death is Fear; fear of the unknown, fear of pain, fear of not existing anymore, fear of leaving our loved ones, fear of tempting fate - take your pick - but fear, I suspect, is the No. 1 underlying reason why the vast majority of us choose to bury our heads in the sand and (foolishly) pretend death only happens to old people.

Many people hope - and even plan - to live to a ripe, old age and die silently and painlessly in their bed surrounded by family members, having already achieved everything they'd wanted to in life.  For most of us, however, the harsh reality couldn't be further from the truth.

Death can - and does - come at any time regardless of age.  So if we can so meticulously plan for our holidays and birthdays, why can't we do the same for our death - be it natural or sudden?  If we did so, no doubt a huge chunk of our fears about dying would be allayed.  Here I'm not only talking about preparing ourselves for death (again, the practical stuff); what I'm saying is that what we do or do NOT in life is of equal importance in how we see or perceive death.

What we do or do not in life is of equal importance in how we view death.

Now think about this for a second; if you were to draw your last breath tomorrow, would you be contented with all that you've accomplished in life?  Have you been spending more time at work than you have with your family?  Have you visited all the places you promised yourself you would?  Have you told all the people whom you care about that you love them?  Have you etc etc?

If after thinking about it you realise you haven’t yet achieved all the things you had hoped you would or spent enough time doing the things that really matter to you, then what are you waiting for?  THIS is your opportunity to make things right because, sadly, second chances are a rarity in life.  Now, let's just pause here momentarily and let that sink in.

Whatever you need (or want)
to do, do it now if you can.
Look, death is a reality and you, along with everyone else on the planet, will at some point either in the near or distant future succumb to its call.  So what’s stopping you from achieving all those things you've always wanted to do?  NOW is the time!

Don't waste your time fearing death because it is as much a part of life as life itself, and consequently holding on to the fear of dying will only have a negative impact on our emotional state.  Death is only a word we have given to what we perceive as life's end.

No one knows for sure what happens after death, so it’s an unknown - and one cannot fear the unknown.  In my opinion, what most of us fear is the image our minds have developed around the word; tales of Hell, or that of untimely and violent deaths or how painful death can be.  All these, I think, have led to an "acquired" fear of death.

What is indubitable is that we'll all experience death only once.  ONCE.  So creating - or worse, nurturing - an unhealthy, deleterious fear of death is needless.  That transition from being alive to being dead is but a momentary instant in time; we go from one to the other in the blink of an eye.  Or less.

Is it worth spending our life worrying about that one final fleeting instant?

So ask yourself this; is it worth spending weeks, months or even years of our precious life worrying about that one final fleeting instant?  Wouldn't all that time be more productively spent on trying to achieve our goals and experience life’s many wonders than on worrying about (or fearing) that split-second event which we have little or no insight of - and even less control over?

Of course it’s heartbreaking to lose a loved one - but understand that, conversely, the loved ones we leave behind are a part of Life and its cycles.  Hence, they are inescapably subject to (and probably even in need of) experiencing Life’s many emotional tribulations - including grief.  It
’s all just part of living.  If they’re never exposed to grief and loss, how can they mature emotionally and discover their own mortality?

We should hence let this fear go, learn to trust and allow Nature's cycle of life and death to run its course.  Death is as natural as life. Releasing this fear will serve us well - both in life as well as in death, so to speak.

Oftentimes our fear is more burdensome than what we think we’re fearful of.
Fearing death achieves nothing and causes us to struggle in the here and now.  Instead, I feel we really ought to take some time to think about how we personally feel about death; death as a whole and also that of our own.  Once we discover where our specific fears lie, we'd be in a much better position to finding a solution to each and acting on them.

We live, we die.  Accept the fact, do whatever that needs to be done now and we will be less fearful of dying.

In his first inaugural speech, Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”.  I think this sums up quite nicely what we're dealing with here.  Oftentimes our fear is exceedingly more burdensome than what we think we’re fearful of.  So what's the point?

Now, I'm not saying I fear not death, but at least I've accepted the certainty of not living forever and probably even not waking up tomorrow. And this has helped me both mentally and spiritually.  I fear death less, so much so that what I fear most about dying really is to come back reincarnated because, honestly, having weathered life once is enough.

We live, we die.  Accept.  Prepare.  Love.  Live.

I didn't know him very well and used to address him simply as Mr Liew.  He was one of my customers; a fine young man who lost his battle against an ailment at the tender age of 30.  His untimely demise raised many questions in my head and pretty much changed my outlook on life as a whole.  I hope you're reading this, Mr Liew, because I'm dedicating this post to you.  Rest in peace, young man.


  1. Very thought provoking. Again, great writing V, x

    1. Thank you, Sara. One of my more "serious" posts. Love hearing from you.

  2. Yes well done Vincent. I think dying at an old age is easier to accept than at an age when life should be peaking. The older you get the more you do dwell on it, but it's really a waste of time. Enjoy it until the last breath.

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