Does it help to remember that death is inevitable?
Many wise ones throughout history have suggested we consult our mortality (rather than our fears and ambitions) during times of turbulence, tragedy and transition.
So perhaps it’s important to remember that death is inevitable for all of us.
And by this I don’t mean to diminish or make light of the horror and sadness of the deaths that are happening all around us during this pandemic.
Nor do I mean to participate in the conversation that’s happening in the media these days about possible future deaths: the thinly veiled suggestion that some lives, especially older lives, may be less valuable than younger lives.
As a therapist and an older woman myself I find this disturbing in many ways. Because while death is inevitable for all of us, ageism is also a very real thing.
Women in particular become less valued and often invisible as they age.
And there have been subtle and not so subtle messages that it may be okay to devalue older lives for the sake of the U.S. economy.
It’s especially disturbing when you realize that most other countries place a greater value on elderhood. At the same time, they also manage to take care of all of their citizens by providing health care and economic support to see them through times of crisis.
Yet despite these differences, there’s little recognition (as far as I can tell) of how the current conversation in the media about opening up the country affects the mental health of elders.
From what I’ve witnessed, though, older adults are experiencing increasing amounts of overwhelm and fear right now.
That said, the existential wisdom of consulting our mortality may be especially relevant these days.
Whether or not we think much about it or speak about it, we all know that death is inevitable and a day will come when we’ll no longer be taking up space on the planet.
But even now, in the midst of this pandemic, you may feel safe and healthy, quite sure you’ll ride this out. And that can be a good thing, especially if it helps you take actions that support your health and safety.
Still, deep down we know death is inevitable.
The shadows and loss of death are all around us right now. Few of us have the capacity to totally shut it out. Even if it feels mostly like a temporary loss of a way of life to you, it’s still in the air.
And it can’t help but get under your skin, at least metaphorically. Because death is inevitable, even if you know you have many years left to live.
It’s kind of like a collective and unexpected wake up call, perhaps a time for reflection and possible insight.
And no matter your age or health, taking some time to ponder a few existential questions right now might actually help. You might even think of it as a form of self-care.
It might feel scary and a bit bizarre to talk about this now though.
After all, human beings don’t generally like to talk about death. And to consider that death is inevitable and what that might mean for our life choices going forward? Not so much.
So if this feels really uncomfortable please be gentle with yourself and pass it by if you need to. You can always pick it up at a later time if it still resonates.
But if you have space (emotionally and physically) in the midst of the tumult, maybe take a walk with these questions/writing prompts, sit in the sun with them, lay on the unmade bed and ponder them.
Oh, and bring a journal with you…
- How would my life be different if I knew I only had five or ten years left to live?
- What would matter most to me if I knew I only had five or ten years left to live?
- How would I care for myself differently if I knew I only had five or ten years left to live?
Because I could not stop for death, he kindly stopped for me.