I shall not enter Odin’s hall with fear
Accepting and embracing death
As a kid, I thought once I died I’d be shut in a pitch-black room.
Then I heard death be compared to pre-birth. “Do you remember what it was like before you were born?” No, of course not. “Well, that’s what death will be like.”
Believing that death is a lack of conscious experience was a big upgrade from forever existing in an inescapable black room, but it didn’t exactly ease my existential fear of not being alive.
The Western world prepared me horribly to deal with death in a deadly one-two combo.
One, everyone I grew up with is atheist or agnostic. I know I’m going to die but have no greater cause or purpose or life after life to believe in. My skepticism about religion might appease the gods of science and logic, but my lack of faith deprives my spirit and infuses death with an unbearable feeling of finality.
Death has lost meaning. We just die. And that’s it. Shut in a pitch-black room.
Two, I treat death like the Grinch. I don’t want to touch it with a thirty-nine and a half-foot pole. While some cultures accept and revere death, I stay far away from it.
If you were distanced from a relative, we would say you have an unhealthy relationship with them. Yet the part of my psyche that craves immortality tries to block death out of my mind entirely and acts like it’s healthy.
In the moments I’ve been close to death, like when visiting my grandpa in palliative care or on a remote beach in Colombia where I watched a man nearly die of a heart attack, I’m stricken with panic and fear.
But I want to take my final breath bravely and, until then, be a supporting shoulder in the moments of tragedy and grief to come.
I picked the orange slice from the rim of my Belgian Moon pint and bit in, its tropical tang providing momentary mental relief from the snowstorm swirling outside, as I began to explain to the shifting pair of eyes across the table that we need to have a healthier relationship with death.
As you can guess, that was our first and last date.
I got a stranger glance from mentioning death than if I had brought up bedroom kinks or personal finances.
As if failing to acknowledge its existence will convince the Grim Reaper to loosen his bony fingers from the splintered shaft of his scythe.
But it’s not my fault I want answers.
I’m without faith and reside in a nation where death is, above anything else, a business.
Other than the Christian twins I went to school with, I don’t know anyone religious. And because Western countries lack any dominant culture, Capitalism has stepped in to pave our death rituals for us.
The opportunity was perfect:
Nations filled with terrified, grieving, and confused customers who don’t have religion or culture to dictate death traditions.
In our vulnerable state of mourning, we fork over thousands to formaldehyde-steeped funeral homes to use their facilities which are more drab and lifeless than the body in the casket. We wear black and dwell in grief while trying to hold back tears by shoving our feelings into the deepest darkest furthest away part of our soul. We’re told funerals bring closure. But closure is to an undertaker what fuel efficiency is to a car salesman: a selling point.
Closure is location independent.
Instead of honouring someone’s life in such a manner that the deceased wouldn’t even show up if they were still alive, why not celebrate it with banners and balloons like a birthday party? Or an anniversary filled with infinite love, fond stories, and raucous laughter? Or a starry skied summer night around a campfire that just doesn’t seem to end?
The message should be “Hey, I’m really glad I got to exist at the same time as you. The odds of that happening were so incredibly low. But damn do I feel lucky that we got to share this time together.”
Sure, we lost them. There’s no escaping life’s cycle. But we were lucky enough to have them.
Rather than focusing on the loss, shouldn’t we cherish the having had?
This post marks two years of Longevity Minded! To celebrate, you can get 20% OFF annual plans until Dec 31.
Death vs. Dying
I’m far more afraid of dying than death.
If death is the same as pre-birth, there’s nothing to worry about. I couldn’t tell you much about life before birth so I don’t think there will be much to report back about death after life.
But the act of dying, of leaving this world of life, the only world I’ve ever known, terrifies me because I have nothing to believe in. My death will simply mark the end.
Yet for many, it marks the end of life and a new beginning.
The Vikings welcomed an honourable death for it was a chance to enter Valhalla where they would fight and feast with the Gods and their lost comrades.
Christians have Heaven. Muslims have Jannah. Buddhists and Hindus are reincarnated.
Their belief infuses death with purpose so they can face it without fear.
Agnostics and atheists have sheer terror with a side of despair.
I’m not saying religion is the answer. I’m not religious nor do I have any forseeable plans to be.
But I envy those who have something to believe in after death.
I hope I’ll learn to find faith in something that gives my death purpose. It could be religion. Or a general belief that a higher being exists. Or a natural belief that releasing the carbon that composes my body back into the Earth’s soil will create life for someone or something else.
I have more questions than answers but I’m prying my unwilling eyes open to search for better ways of accepting and embracing the brevity and finality of my existence.
Recommended watching: Limitless With Chris Hemsworth: Episode 6: Acceptance
*The title of this piece is a line from the TV show Vikings.
This post marks two years of Longevity Minded! To celebrate, I’m offering 20% OFF annual plans until Dec. 31.
Members and I are competing in an Everyday January exercise challenge. If you’re considering upgrading your membership, now’s the time to do it. You’ll unlock a ton of valuable content (like these ebooks) and get access to the challenge so you get off to a strong start in 2024.
Because it’s Christmas Eve, there won’t be a post this Sunday. Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, use it as an opportunity to shut off your phone and enjoy time with loved ones.
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Lots of love,
P.S. Thanks toand for your invaluable feedback on the initial draft of this piece.