In our current coronavirus epidemic, many people are feeling more and more apprehensive about family, friend’s, neighbor’s — and one’s own mortality. It’s perfectly natural, perfectly understandable. Although we know that death is an inevitable part of the life cycle, many of us have a hard time accepting it.
A large part of why it’s become so difficult to make peace with our mortality is because death not only waits a lot longer than it used to — it’s also become that much more removed from our real-life experience.
Just a century ago, men’s life expectancy was at 53.6 years and a women’s expectancy was at 54.6 (in 2019, it jumped to 76 years for males, 81 years for females in North America). Also, infant mortality went down from 165 deaths per 1,000 in 1900 to only 7 in 1997. By 1997, too, diseases that had killed thousands of children in 1900 (and before) had also been practically eliminated.
A century ago, mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, grandmothers and grandfathers — and, yes, even children perished more often in one’s lifetime. People also died at home. Now, we not only face less loss in our own lifetimes, our loved ones usually take their last ragged breaths inside the sanitary walls of a hospital. It’s understandable that because we have become increasingly removed from the death experience and its process, we have become increasingly at odds with learning how to accept not only other’s — but our own mortality as well.
This makes a lot of us feel as if this current pandemic is something so surreal, it’s hard to believe. I have heard many people comment about how they feel as if we’re all living in a science fiction story, myself included. Although we’re hopeful that modern science will find a cure soon, modern life, with all its improvements in public health over the past century, has also lulled us into a false sense of invincibility.
Regardless, death can happen for anyone of us at any time. And I believe that the sooner we make peace with our mortality, the sooner we can find peace in our every day lives. But how can we make peace with that big, scary thing called death –something that is so unknown, so, well… final?
One of the first steps in making peace with our mortality is looking at the bigger picture. No matter one’s religion, spirituality, or belief system, we can all step back, take a deep breath, and remember how we have ancestors who lived before us — and loved ones who will carry on after us. There is peace in realizing that we are not alone in our mortality, peace in knowing that whatever the state our world is in, it will carry on in its own way without us. Accepting this means letting go of our own importance — which can also be a very freeing exercise in the here and now.
Another way in which we can make peace with our mortality is to recognize how healing it can be to live well in the present. Focus on positive choices that not only help yourself but others — and the environment itself. In your work or spare time — whether that means selling insurance, creating a work of art, or organizing a community garden — remember to connect with others in the most caring way you can, while also encouraging the well-being of our planet. In so doing, you are living a more meaningful life, which may help you accept your inevitable death, your final exit in which you can feel as if you left the world and the people you love and know with a better vision of what can be.
In the words of the great artist and inventor Leonardo da Vinci: “As a well spent day brings happy sleep, so life well used brings happy death.”
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