That very question hit me like a ton of bricks in the car today. I suddenly realized that someday (hopefully a long time from now) I will cease to exist. I must say, I had a brief moment of panic. Then I thought, "If I don't exist, what difference will it make to me?" I suppose none... I won't be around to ponder it. I keep going back to something Dawkins said in The Magic of Reality, If this is it, we have to make the most of it. (I totally paraphrased that).
I remember saying something years ago when I was a young evangelical. "You don't start living til you die." Even remembering those words now, churns my stomach. Why waste my life on Earth planning for some eternal existence of boring worship? I have to make every moment count!
Now, I just have to figure out how...
I've never believed in gods or an afterlife, and the fact of my own death still makes me sweat with terror when I really face it in the middle of the night. I deal with it by not dealing with it: There's nothing I can do about it, so I exercise conscious avoidance. It makes it much easier to live life. And, anyway, pondering my own death now will not make it any easier when it's my time to go ...
Hmmm... well this seems to have been answered to death and I'm sure Nate has come to his own conclusions on the subject.
Personally I've always been fine with being mulch... but I'm a gardener, which is yearly all about birth and death and renewal. We're fairy dust flitting among the cosmos... be happy, make every day worth living as if it were your last, be fully in the here and now as best as you're able, love yourself and your life, leave good memories with those that you care about and care about you, try to make a difference among those less fortunate than yourself... and then make peace and space for the next batch of mulch... it's all good........ really.
Maybe knowing that this is your one shot at getting it right could make all the difference in living at your optimum best and not wasting a precious minute because some fall guy in the sky will get you off the hook. It's your life, so make the best of it!
Schopenhauer had the best idea, I think - realize that you did not exist before you were born and that that did not bother you. It will be the same after you die: not existing will not bother you. It's not as though you'll be sitting off to the side somewhere, saying, "Gee, I wish that I existed." There's nothing wrong w/death; death is the price of life. But there's a great deal wrong w/being afraid to live - which is usually the result of being afraid to die!
I always tell people "Death is not an experience. Dying is an experience. Death is not."
Dying is the final experience! - one that I am not (yet) eager to have, but, then, no matter what, I will one day have it ... My fantasy death is to go to a very expensive restaurant and have a wonderful meal. Then, after I've finished my dessert and coffee, to let out an enormous burp before dropping dead where I sit. Think what that will do for their business! And I want to leave behind a great, huge mountain of debt. My creditors can forward the bills to my headstone.I'll pay them as soon as I can - I promise!
At least in his literature, Kurt Vonnegut referred to death as "getting stuck in time." I always found THAT a frightening thought, as though I had to look at the last image on my retina forever and ever and ever.
He was a science fiction writer, I believe. I don't do science fiction, so I'm not familiar w/his work - except for what I was forced to read in high school, and I can't remember what that was - did he do "Subliminal Man" or was that Bradbury? ... I believe that Vonnegut made the list of famous atheists. I think he did. The most surprising name on that list? - Katherine Hepburn! She played such a good missionary spinster, didn't she? - both w/Humphrey Bogart and John Wayne.
Vonnegut is hard to categorize. I doubt if most people would describe him as sci fi. A certain type of fantasy, surely, but whatever in his works seemed to take on a sci fi theme had precious little science behind it. Not like Arthur C. Clarke or Isaac Asimov. The books that I recall that had some resemblance to sci fi were Cat's Cradle (Ice 9, a type of water that freezes at temps where regular water is liquid, also having the property of converting regular water coming into contact with it to Ice 9), The Sirens Of Titan, and Slaughter House 5. His other books tended to be political fantasies, more or less.
That's a good distinction. Fear of death is silly to me, as we won't know a thing - we will already be dead. Fear of dying on the other hand is an entirely different kettle of fish.
When deeply, seriously considered, eternal life is a terrifying proposition. After about 4 hundred trillion billion years, the entire cosmos would be like a 6 X 8 grey prison cell. There would be no one with whom to talk - for everything would have already been said. There would be nothing left to read or learn - all would be known. At that point, eternity wouldn't even be started yet, and the next trillion trillion trillion years would be more than I could bear.