Between transience and intransience is a deep river that all must wade through. There is no bridge. There is no parachute. None can lend a helping hand. Each to his own respite! There is no other way into the intransience. Most importantly, there is no choice to refuse to wade across the river. Clinging to the transient doesn’t help. Denial of the intransience is self-delusional. The river has to be crossed over!
There is fear of stepping into the river. The depth is unknown. But, there is no option of turning back either. There is no trail behind.
This is precisely the imagery of ‘death’.
Would you ever leave a newborn in the banks of a river knowing that the river waters would soon invade the banks and take along all that is there along the bank? Or for that matter, would you ever leave your parents or friends or spouse or any of your loved ones or even an acquaintance in such a place? Given a choice, most people wouldn’t.
But the thing with death is that, it offers no choice. The magic potions of immortality are best enjoyed in the pages of mythology and then left at that, without expecting precious vials of such potions to mysteriously land up beside the bedside of the blessed. Death is inevitable!
Death is an expected intruder in the pathway of life – ‘expected’ because we know it would come, ‘intruder’ because we don’t know when it would sneak in and put an end to life.
When we talk of being prepared or unprepared to meet death, we mostly think of the emotions, finances and social consequences as loved ones left behind to cope with the loss. We mostly think of the life that could have lived a few more years or of a life that lived to the fullest. We write flattering obituaries and speak fondly at memorials. We accord utmost respect to the departed soul and avoid remarking negatively during solemn times as these.
We often attempt to push death as far as we can within our means – by having the right lifestyle and avoiding known dangers. Modern medicine has enhanced life expectancy hugely. Knowing the inevitability of death, we strive to live life to the fullest potential. However, having strived well, we still have to wade through the deep waters of death.
Scary, isn’t it?
No matter what is the belief system of cultures across the world regarding ‘after death what?’, none can afford to disprove death itself.
Death carries with it the ghastly fear of the unknown.
Parents often worry when their children go out on their own. But, when they know that the child is not alone, when then they know where exactly the child has gone, they feel assured, though their hearts (quite understandably) continue to flutter till the child reaches back home.
The fear, anxiety and grief accompanied with death is largely because of the lone journey into an unknown realm – none can accompany, the destination is uncertain.
But, what if the destination is known?
What if there is someone to lead the way?
Is death, a journey – or the end of all journeys?
Is there a destination involved, at all?
Thoughts and philosophies from centuries of old provide explanations for death. Hence, beliefs about life and death are relatively culture-specific and variant.
If life is perceived to be only physical, death would be the end of all journeys. Nothing beyond.
However, life does not merely comprise of the body – but is the union of the body, spirit and soul. We take care of our body, obey traffic rules and steer our vehicles in the chartered path so that our bodies don’t dash against anything or anybody and we don’t end up getting hurt. But, how careful are we about steering our souls and spirits in the right way, so that they are not hurt?
The question might sound a bit uncanny!
Especially because, it is widely believed that death puts an end to all hurts and pains. Does it really?
Death puts an end to physical pain. There is no doubt about it. None would dispute it, because it is visible and cognizable. In fact, we often heave sighs of relief when people in pain without a cure, pass away!
But, what about the soul and spirit?
We often wish peace for the departed soul. Will the departed souls be at peace simply because we wish so? Are those souls in utter disquiet, for whom no one wishes peace?
We also hear people wishing happiness for the departed souls wherever they may be. Would the souls be happy if we wish thus, or they would be unhappy if we don’t?
What can you and I do in preparation to transition into death?
- First, believe that death is an intruder. It seldom comes announced. And so, preparation is essential to meet this intruder.
- Second, believe that life is more than just the body. After death, the body ceases to be. But, the spirit doesn’t cease. There is an endless eternity for each of us to face.
- Third, the preparation has to do more with self than others. We do need to have our house and finances in order well before dying. But, we also need to array our own souls well.
- Fourth, we need to be prepared to face the Judge of all creation regardless of our belief systems while on earth.
- Fifth, we need to acknowledge and repent for our sins while on earth. A peaceful death doesn’t ensure a peaceful eternity. Regardless of a turbulent or a peaceful death, we can be at peace in eternity only if we are forgiven.
I often remind myself of the popular statement – ‘Live each day as if it is your last’. To live in love and amity with fellowmen, to live in repentance of sin, to live with the assurance of being forgiven by God, to live in the joy of living, to live with the assured hope of a glorious eternity – is a worthwhile preparation for death.
Would such a preparation, offer any consolation to the loss of a precious one? Not always.
In his book ‘A Grief Observed’, C.S. Lewis writes about the loss of his wife of four years. In fact, he has converted his journal of those grief-stricken days into the book. He shares of his struggles, the memories, the longing to have his wife by his side again, remembering the nitty-gritty of their brief time together, trying to reason with God and then coming to a resigned acceptance of reality. It is a book I purchased when I was searching to gift such a book to a dear friend who had lost her younger sister at child-birth after giving birth to twin daughters.
There were too many questions with the family? The young man who dreamt of a happy family, was now broken – having lost his wife and a mounting task before him to raise two children single-handedly. Knowing that his wife led a life of love and preparation for eternity, provided no immediate solution to his woes.
There can be no one-size-fits all type of solution to deal with death. Some of us learn to cope, some repress the loss down the deep recesses of the mind while some never cope with the loss of their loved ones at all. A shoulder to cry, a hand to wipe away tears, ears to hear repeated narration of memories – make losses bearable.