Death and Suffering: A fear of the Unknown

There is this really old lady who loiters about an area near my current residence. She’s a pathetic thing – unwashed, uncaring. Most of the time I see her sleeping on the sidewalk.

Update: Having looked at this week’s Weekly Writing Challenge, I decided to make this post my submission, with the idea that considerations of age often lead to considerations of death and impermanence.

Morbid title, isn’t it?

There is this really old lady who loiters about an area near my current residence. She’s a pathetic thing – unwashed, uncaring. Most of the time I see her sleeping on the sidewalk. The day I started writing this, I saw her bite something, not sure if it was fruit or bread, and immediately lay down, back to her usual stupor. Also, I once saw her sleep through some brats annoying her, pulling on her blouse etc. She is the inspiration for this post.

Death is a saddening event, right? The thought of a loved one not being available to interact with ever again is depressing indeed. Death is therefore, a countdown timer that haunts every living being incessantly, at least unconsciously, if not consciously. It scares us, which is why we have what is called survival instinct – the switch from unconscious fear of death to conscious fear of death. The concept of death influences everyone eventually, at very fundamental levels. But is death really that bad?

We don’t know what death is in its entirety. No one on this planet does. There is no concrete proof of the consequences of death. We don’t know for certain that it is something to be afraid of. Religion in general, all religions, try to do only two things – tell people how to live their lives, and to interpret nature, of which death is a part. In fact, the tenets for living in a particular way are directly motivated by the thought of communion with the gods after death. Fundamentally, all religions serve the same purpose – to try and make sense of the world and to encourage a healthy society (at least in theory. I’ll abstain from talking about the overzealous misinterpretation of religious texts). So when you think about it – religions circumvent fear of death by offering oneness with the gods. Why then do we still treat death as bad, and why are we still scared of it? Do we not believe in the texts, or is it that we accept the texts when convenient, letting survival instinct take over when things get real?

In fact, many religions preach life after death, and of death being just another stepping stone towards oneness with God, yet we all fear death. Extremely religious people try to live good, healthy lives because they are afraid of going to hell. They are afraid of being judged inadequate to reside in heaven. This can be interpreted as an additional layer: People don’t want to die because they feel that with a little more time, they could do more good in the world and hence secure their position in heaven.

I am part of a huge family (extended), which is not uncommon in my community, and I am at an age where all the people from two generations ago are nearing a dying age. When we hear about a death, a lot of phone calls go around. I hear my mom telling her fellow mourners – “Haan, akhir me bahut kasht me thhe. Hum toh dua kar hi rahe thhe ki bas khatam ho jaaye.” (“Yes, (he) was in great pain towards the end. We were praying that it ends soon.”), and I applaud her for that. Something like that is absolutely taboo everywhere, because it is considered very rude and inconsiderate to take relief in someone’s death.

I want to note here that we are an extremely selfish species. We bawl and cling on to coffins when people die, and even if they were 95 or more years old, we say “Oh if only s/he had lived a few more years”. I don’t know if it’s a show of solidarity, or if it’s attention-grabbing, but I feel it is way too disrespectful towards the dead, and very selfish. We are ready for someone else to suffer continually, and go through unimaginable pain and humiliation, because we don’t want to experience the change that is brought about by their death. Fear of change, fear of death, and fear of losing something make us not think of the person who is actually suffering.

This is one of the reasons why I think that Governments preventing or barring euthanasia is absolute nonsense. By their logic, it is okay if the person is a helpless vegetable, a burden on their family and friends (no matter what they say), but it is not okay to end their suffering. People say it is extremely selfish of the person wanting to die because they do not consider the feelings of and the impact on their friends and family. Why should the converse not hold true? How can the aforementioned friends and family be so selfish as to want the person to suffer, just because they don’t want to experience loss/change?

I’ve discussed this sort of thing with my mother, and we are both of the same mind – she and I both want to die by the age of 65-ish. Our logic overlaps quite a bit. We are both hard incessant workers and we never want to be a burden on someone else. We often take on a little more hardship for the sake of helping someone else. As such, if there comes a day when we are unable to do things (for whatever reason – forced to retire, debilitating illness/injury, etc.), we want to die quickly rather than drag out what would be a painful, long, arduous and humiliating process. The thought might be shocking to you, reader, but take a moment to consider our thoughts and motivations. Take a moment to calmly study the logic of the above statements.

Therefore, today’s question is this: Do you agree with the above logic? What is your opinion of death and suffering?

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  • I pondered over this question a while back. The reason why individuals fear death is not death itself. It’s regret.
    The permanent inability to perform certain tasks or duties that were on their checklist is what roots them and holds them to this world. The age at which I die or the way I would go off, might not be my choice. But if there is one thing I could choose, I would like to die without regrets. To make peace with myself, my peeves, my failures, my enemies and everything that that haunted my life. The ability to write ‘The End’ on the final line of the final chapter of my life, is the kind of death I wish for.

    • I mentioned something similar when I said that people want more time to do more good.
      Also you mentioned that your death may not be your choice, which brings up an interesting angle on ‘control’.