Death, itself, is a very delicate subject, which brings up many emotions such as sadness, worry, and powerlessness. The fear of death seems, for most of us, as inevitable as the event itself. It is a fear that makes us want to eat healthier, drink less, work out more and, maybe once in a while, get a colonoscopy. Yet, no matter how hard we try, we can’t avoid the fact that we all have an expiration date. Which is why, for most of us, avoiding thinking about death seems like the best option to cope. However, while avoiding this topic can reduce a little discomfort in the short term, it probably makes us much more anxious the older we get.
What if there are ways to find more peace and acceptance with death, while acknowledging what it can teach us about life?
There seems to be ample reasons why we are afraid of death. Firstly, there is the fear of pain and suffering as we are going through the dying process. Secondly, the we may struggle with the fear of the unknown and the non-existence after death, whether we have a spiritual/religious belief or not. Then, there is the fear of the eternal judgment and the ensuing punishment for all our wrongdoings during this lifetime. But, according to Dr. Elisabeth Kuebler Ross, the author of the groundbreaking book “On Death,” the most common fear of death is rooted in the fact that we have no control over the inevitability of our mortality. We have become accustomed to being in charge of most details of our lives, planning ahead, foreseeing potential challenges and fix occurring problems. As a result, it becomes more and more difficult for us to accept that most of us don’t have control over when and how our death will take place.
I used to have all of these fears of death myself. But, during my time as a physician, as I was confronted with patients dying, I could no longer avoid reflecting on this natural part of life. It was thanks to the wonderful advancements in palliative care that I lost my concerns about the dying process itself. Whenever I sat with a person during their last hours of life, whether they died from illness, an accident or old age, I greatly appreciated that the different medications they received were able to make them more comfortable and at ease.
My spiritual beliefs, as well as the fascinating accounts of people who went through near-death experiences (including my uncle, whose experience I will share on Empowerment Radio), helped me to no longer fear that death is the final stage. Since everything in nature is cyclical – the seasons, the tides, our breath, day and night – it makes sense that death isn’t the end, but just the beginning of another adventure.
I found even greater peace with death during the passing of my parents, when I learned to appreciate the gift of our mortality. Since I had moved to Seattle, I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to sufficiently support my parents, who lived in Germany, during their final years. To make the best of this situation, I not only visited them several times per year and called them almost every day, I also asked them deeper questions about my childhood, their journey in life, their views on God, love and the purpose of life. I guess, without formalizing it, my intention was to be able to bid them farewell from a place of fullness and without any regrets, which thankfully I was able to do.
Without the certainty of death, I would have postponed healing old wounds and getting closer to my mom and dad. I would have not made our relationship a priority, and most likely continued to, more or less, take them for granted. But isn’t this also true for our relationship with ourselves and our lives? How much time do we spend on auto-pilot, dutifully checking-off our to-do-lists, without being present with our mind, body and emotions? How often do we lament the fact that time seems to rush by like a high-speed train, but we do very little to slow ourselves down? The passing of my parents was my the-time-is-now wake-up call, which prompted me to take an inventory on my life, let go of what no longer served me and to pursue the dreams I had almost forgotten about. All of these changes were fueled by my intention, so that when my time has come to bid farewell to this life, I will feel similarly as I did with my parents – with a full heart and no regrets. I don’t know if I will be granted to leave this earth in such a blessed way. But, I know acknowledging that one day will be my last helps me to not sweat the small stuff, instead focusing more on the daily opportunities to embrace the little and big joys life offers every day.
I look forward to sharing my stories with you, and my uncle’s incredible experience on Empowerment Radio this coming Thursday, November 7th at 9AM PT / Noon ET.
Missed an episode? You can watch all my previous Empowerment Radio segments here on my site, or as videos on my YouTube where you also have access to meditations, webinars and many other tools to help you reach your greatest potential.