The latest news has included a series of unexpected and internet-virally contagious celebrity deaths, including the tragedy of Carrie Fisher shortly tragically followed by her mother Debbie Reynolds. Alongside these two deaths accompanied a plethora of celebrity obituaries in 2016, including, but not limited to, Prince, George Michael, Fidel Castro, Leonard Cohen (writer of the famous song "Hallelujah"), Arnold Palmer, Gene Wilder, 27-year-old Anton Yelchin (Chekov in the newest Star Trek films), Muhammad Ali, Alan Rickman (Snape from the Harry Potter movies), David Bowie, and many, many more people; and these are just the celebrities. This vast of media-highlighted passings in 2016 has left the social-media universe personifying 2016 as a raging murderer, irately demanding that it "just stop!"
Besides these famous names included in the above list, there are still family members, close friends, friends of a friend, or local, national, or international tragedies that have left us speechless, heartbroken, and with grief beyond all explanation. As the music group Mumford & Sons wrote in their song Timshel: "And death is at your doorstep / And it will steal your innocence / But it will not steal your substance." Perhaps many even disagree with this sentiment. Death is the mass murderer that shows up at the least acceptable time and can steal our heart and our substance.
Death is the most common-to-man yet perhaps most mesmerizing, and often fear inducing, human event on the planet. Every single person that has ever existed in the history of all humanity, from the very first "human ancestor" that walked the face of the earth -- whether you believe it was the Neanderthals, Apes, Adam and Eve, a combination of the three, or another option all together -- has death in common. No matter what you might believe happens when you die, or if you believe there is any significance in death at all, we all still expectantly await the day that we breathe our last, and when death knocks at our door to take someone close to us, it's always with intense sadness and inexplicable bereavement.
As 2016 comes to a close, there are three vitally important lessons about death that we should all consider and learn from.
Do you consider your own death?
Thanatophobia is the psychological fear of the dying self; death anxiety. Many people in the world constantly face the anxiety and stress of their own demise, and it can be paralyzing for them, limiting the way they make life decisions and constricting the depth of their relationships, their joy, and their livelihood.
This is the extreme, someone who considers their own death compulsively and can't stop thinking about it. But where do you fall on the spectrum? Do you ever think about the fact that at some point in history, you will no longer live? It is healthy to at least acknowledge this, and to also contemplate exactly what that means for you now.
1. Tomorrow Is Only An Ideal
We never want to be the one who is an unannounced victim of Death, or to even be the one who has the uninvited responsibility of witnessing a family member or close friend lose their life. The truth is, tomorrow is only an ideal. We all live today in hopes that tomorrow will be another chance to try "life". But what if tomorrow never comes?
Zac Brown Band released a song in 2015 titled Tomorrow Never Comes. In the song, they sing these lyrics:
I'm gonna live like tomorrow never comes / There's no end in sight, tonight we black out the sun / Better hold on tight, before you know it's gone / And live like tomorrow never comes.
How would you live differently or change your perspective today if you knew that tomorrow would never come? Our lifestyle is often a reflection of our ideals, and so we live each day like tomorrow is another chance, but tomorrow is only an ideal; today is your best chance at becoming the person you want to be. Don't wait until tomorrow to be who you are meant to be. Become that person now.
2. Your Time Will Come
In 2016, we had the misfortune of seeing death after death through every media outlet known to man. One day it was our favorite TV star, then the next it was our all-time favorite singer or performer. These headlines exasperated emotions from us that we often could not explain: "Why is 2016 doing this?!" we might have said.
I've lost loved ones due to health problems, old age, and unfortunately deep and intense tragedy. There is no preparation that makes losing someone close to you any easier, but there is personal preparation that can prepare us for our own death, and this is what allows us to truly live.
After Steve Jobs, Co-Founder of Apple, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, he said, "Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything - all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important."
What is truly important in your life? Perhaps you don't know the answer to that question. There is the old saying, "Ignorance is bliss." Likely no one reading this would say they are ignorant. But many reading might not have a solid answer for what happens when they die, and what in life now makes their death more meaningful. Ignorance is not bliss. When we live our lives with no purpose, no trajectory, no hope, then death is fleeting and scary, an abyss of unknown that evades our thoughts and hides from our confrontation. But when we have a solid purpose in life, the sun wakes us up each morning and reminds us of why we carry on.
What if you were told with certainty the exact time, day, year, and place that you would die? How would you live now to prepare?
"When your time comes to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song, and die like a hero going home." - Tecumseh
Live each day completely full of life.
3. Truly Living Is Never Dying
“Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”” - Jesus
All people everywhere have the daily option of living with or without purpose. When we decide to live for something beyond the scope of our own immediate self, we realize a reality far greater than the momentary things we see with our very eyes. Instead of considering today or tomorrow, we dwell on eternity.
"Death is only the end if you assume the story is about you" - Welcome to Night Vale Podcast
When we no longer live our lives for ourselves, then death becomes a constantly welcomed friend in our lives, because we know our own life is microscopic in comparison to the greater story.
Do you believe there is a greater story? Perhaps you don't. I firmly believe every person everywhere is part of a larger narrative. This belief makes life exciting and intentional-- it fills me with purpose and a driven attitude each and every day; it reminds me of what is most important.
What if the unknown in death was no longer unknown? We fear that which we know nothing of. But would we fear death in the same confusing way if we knew what death really meant?
"It is the unknown we fear when we look upon death and darkness, nothing more." - J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
"End? No, the journey doesn't end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it." - J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King
"No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new." - Steve Jobs
"As a well-spent day brings happy sleep, so a life well spent brings happy death." - Leonardo da Vinci
What if you could experience the relief and certainty that these quotes all share? You can. The first step is living each day full of purpose.
When we truly live, death is no longer the end, but only a new beginning.
Death can be scary. Maybe you don't consider death because it brings heartache and confusion. Perhaps you don't think about death because it feels so distant and confusing. If 2016 has taught us anything, it's to live your life now like you've never lived before. Don't fear death any longer. Make changes and be who you know you were meant to be. Tomorrow is not promised, it is only an ideal. Your time will come, so live now.
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