Talking about death
One of the biggest things to terrify people is, ironically, one of the few things certain in life, and it is death. I think one of the major contributors to the nervousness, which is associated with such a concept is that it can be for most people be the unpredictable nature in which it will emerge in a person’s life.
When you look at death as a concept your brain really can imagine, and with such an ominous topic such as death it can imagine freely and sometimes this can be a great exploration into the unknown, a reflection upon one’s mortality, or it can be absolutely terrifying as you list mentally every single contingency that could mark your own demise.
I think it’s also how you treat death as a concept is how you will respond to it. If you had a negative experience within your life, for example not being able to say goodbye to a loved one before they have passed, then you also affiliate that experience with a negative emotion such as guilt. It's due to this immensely negative experience that creates quite a formidable mental block within someone’s psyche, and that experience need not be isolated to yourself, but it can also be attributed to the loss of someone who is close.
Often when I am in a therapeutic situation, death seems to evoke an emotional response which is usually very passionate. One of the common things I hear is: “now what am I going to do?” This is especially prevalent when you have an individual who may have lost a parent or another loved one who acted as a mentor or a spouse.
I think one of the greatest things you can do regarding death is to flip it on its head is a concept. When I think of a funeral, I usually think of a very solemn affair, very respectful and something which reflects the moment. I think one of the most important aspects of the entire funeral process is the Wake; the remembrance of someone’s life, the fun times, and recapturing that joy is paramount to help start the recovery from the grieving process.
There are misgivings regarding death as it seems a very negative thing, however, there are positive attributes to death:
- It can release pain and suffering.
- It makes and forges positive memories of the deceased.
- It helps focus upon our own mortality and allows us to focus on our own priorities in life and what we wish to achieve.
- It is a way of remembrance and allows the grieving process to start and for us to work through and move on.
- It may promote a positive lesson from which we all can learn.
Using humour can be a good way to acknowledge the characteristics of death. Many authors and comedians have attempted to encapsulate the ridiculous and also the comic elements of death to make it easier to comprehend or go through or even see it from death’s point of view. For example, the author Terry Pratchett famously wrote a character Death in his “Discworld” novels. The character is direct and sarcastic but also offers wisdom, which is a positive attribute we do not often associate with a being that has seen everything (or most things).
You can also look to real-life whereby a death could be considered as an educational experience; for example, an individual who plays catch the rattlesnake with his friend, another person who demonstrates that his windows are shatterproof on the 24th floor of a building, and tragically finds out they’re not. Or best of all, as with the Greek philosopher Chrysippus in 279 BC, you find a drunken donkey so funny you laugh yourself to death.
These instances of death are tragedies within their own right, but they have also provided essential life lessons to ensure that other individuals may not be tempted to be so frivolous with their actions. The three most important lessons we’ve learned through these examples are: don’t jump out of windows without proper equipment and support, do not juggle venomous snakes and also do not get donkeys intoxicated.
In all cases each situation is unique, and humour might not be appropriate to everyone, however, when you’re looking at death it all reflects upon your perspective and level of acceptance to death. Talking to a counsellor or another therapist is one way that you can help yourself engage in a neutral perspective, share your own ideologies, your own perspectives and really begin not only to remember the loss of your loved one, or your own personal phobia, but also place key strategies in place to help you examine the experience and allow you the space to reflect and come up with your own stratagem to help you through one of the most difficult losses of life.