Death Deconstructed (4 ways we cope with the fear of dying)
Death is a very interesting concept. It takes cognitive ability just to understand its basic principles of non-reversibility and permanence. That is why young children do not comprehend the full meaning of death.
Death is something hated, feared, and avoided, as well as something loved, anticipated, and accepted. It can be a means of reward and a means for punishment. It can be a method of escape and freedom from pains of living. Different people at different times perceive death differently. And in their differing perceptions, they have different ideas as to avoid the thought of death straight on.
The first way we try to avoid our fear of death is to assume we don’t die at all. Olden novels and stories mention tales of heroes and rules seeking out the elixir of life in order to obtain immortality. If you never die, you don’t fear death. This is mostly seen in adolescents who, although know objectively that they will die, live as if they are immortal. It was Marcus Aurelius who said: “Do not act as if you were going to live ten thousand years. Death hangs over you. While you live, while it is in your power, be good.”
However, some people don’t believe that immortality is possible, or they believe it to be child-like imagination. Instead, they might go for the next idea.
The second idea we have, is physical resurrection. Many times in movies and games we mention people coming back from the dead, or having gone through tremendous physical pain that they might as well be dead. This type of thinking in completeness lives only in the mind of few people who talk about hibernation capsules or zombie apocalypses. In partial, it lives with almost everyone. Medicine is based somewhat around this; that you are sick and dying, maybe even part of you is dead, but we are able to bring you back to life.
But, at many times, medicine doesn’t have the answer. In those cases, resurrection seems futile.
Many people believe the next concept, which is spiritual immortality. If the body cannot live on, the soul will. This is expressed by people from all ages, but seems to concentrate in those closer to death. Agnostic people are twice more likely to believe in God when confronted with a death scenario compared to something else. Physical deterioration seems to trigger a defense mechanism to believing in some sort of afterlife.
We all know though, that some people firmly do not believe in spiritual resurrection. How to they deal with the concept of death?
The last way we avoid complete death is by the idea of leaving a legacy. Understanding that physical longevity and resurrection is impossible, and believing that spiritual immortality is improbable, then having something left behind to be remembered by is one way to keep living longer.
Woody Allen said, “I don’t want to live on in the hearts of my countrymen. I want to live on in my apartment.” Thus, we go back to the first stage which is immortality. I like to believe that we all shift through the phases from time to time, that we are not obliged or fixed to one. I also believe that we can easily adopt more than one style of thinking to suit us best, to be able to live fully according to the way we perceive death individually.
Choose what you want, but whatever you choose, do it well. You only get to chase death once.
A lot of this is based on Stephen Cave’s work. Check out more details about how people deal with the fear of death in his book, “Immortality: The Quest to Live Forever and How It Drives Civilization” (which can be found here)
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