The idea doesn't bother me at all. Life scares me more. I don't know what will happen from day to day and it's always a tooth and nail fight with small spaces of peace and quiet. Death may be the end for me but I don't mind. I've lived a good life but most importantly to me, I'm who a want to be so I'll die the man I wanted to become in this life. We can't all cure cancer but we can all live up to our own expectations. So I didn't change the world. So what. I changed the lives I touched and I think mostly for the better. That's enough for me.
I think the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus tackled this problem best. He said that people feared death only because of the mistaken belief that after death there is awareness.
According to Epicurus, when we exist death is not, and when death exists we are not. All sensation and consciousness ends with death and therefore in death there is neither pleasure nor pain.
In ancient Rome, many adherents of the Epicurean philosophy had their tombstones engraved with the epitaph: "Non fui, fui, non sum, non curo" (I was not, I was, I am not, I don't care).
Another quote that I rather like on this subject comes from Mark Twain:
"I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it."
This is my first post, and I know that this is an old question, but I wanted to share my experience with death.
I watched my husband die on the floor of my bedroom when he was only 36, and after doing CPR on him for the 10 minutes it took the ambulance to come and having them work on him and tell me that there is nothing they could do and that he was dead, I was shattered. I had been living with this man for 11 years and one week exactly. My entire adult life was spent with this man as my partner, lover, and though it sounds cliché, my best friend. I am only 29 years old. It has been less than a month since my life changed forever. In the first 2 weeks, which felt like years and seconds at the same time, I wished that I could believe in a heaven where Ken will be waiting for me and can still see me and in a way, be with me….But I know in my heart that this is not true. I know that him dying on the floor in front of me after being sick for 6 months by congestive heart failure, crying and telling me he was sorry that I had to take care of him at least once a week, needing my assistance for the most basic things that those who are not sick take for granted…none of that was part of a god’s plan. It is just the shitty part of life. I find no comfort in people’s reply that “he is in a better place” and that they “will pray for my comfort” and other religious statements. I know that they aren’t doing it to hurt me, but it does hurt. I know that this is not true. My husband is dead, and I have the ashes of his body in a container in my bedroom and some in a necklace around my neck; not in heaven, not in hell.
I find that my atheism has actually helped me accept my husband’s death. Since there is no after life, I have had to confront his death head on, no cushion of heaven or anything to delude me from the reality that the remainder of my one and only life here on earth will be forever different. I owe it to myself not to deprive myself of living this life to the fullest, the life that my husband did not get to live. Don’t get me wrong, I am not “over him.” I will still cry and mourn him for the rest of my life, he was good to me, and forgiving and really did love me. I haven’t had the kind of connection with him with anyone else. I believe that my life is better for having known him, and although it hurts to have lost him, and I can’t say what the future will hold, but I do know that if I play my cards right I can have another 50 years to continue to promote my husband’s art and put on the shows that he didn’t get to. If I can do that, I can truly give him an everlasting life.
I feel that we will not pass away into nothingness, as long as we leave something behind... memories, kind acts, or something more tactile like my husband's art.
Thank you for sharing that experience. I had a longer journey to this realization than you, but the death of my brother - and his life - taught me not to fear.
I was raised in a secular home and have never believed in a supernatural deity. Strangely enough, though, I never feared my own death but was shaken to the core by the death of my brother. He practiced non-theistic Zen Buddhism and was open and comfortable with his approaching death. We were able to speak about it and about his life but he was very focused on the beauty of each day as it unfolded... each minute. He lived intensely in the present and I treasured that experience. When he died, however, I was really thrown into a black hole inside. I had been his caregiver for so long and had defined my existence through this role. That is what led me, in a sense, to monastic life. Not because I wanted to believe in a god and a heaven and whatnot, but because I sought to live intensely in each moment focusing on the inner life. I also wanted to believe that his essence, in some form, lived on. I still believe that but not in the sense of heaven or reincarnation but rather in the play of energies which are at the core of existence which is devoid of essential memory.
I do not fear death. I live each day and try to be mindful of the world around me in each unfolding of the present moment. I practice death by letting go of "possessions," be they relationships or material, and being aware of my interconnectedness with all things and beings. I enjoy what comes into my life and try to release it with grace when it is time for it to go.
I work in hospice and have experienced death countless times over the years. There is something incredible in the moment of death. There is something palpably different in the room during this transition from life to death... no matter how difficult or relatively easy the passing is. There is a deep quiet and peace. It is a mystery, not in the sense of supernatural but in the sense of being a frontier we know nothing about. How can no-thing... a lack of conscious thought be something to fear? "Fear is the mind-killer... the little death that brings total obliteration." A lot of our problems come with our mind's limited ability to grapple with abstractions which creates unnecessary fear.
All that I know is it strengthens me not to dwell on things I cannot know until it is my time to experience them myself. It is an age old question... what we experience after physical death. But it is irrelevant to my life now. I live each moment and walk with those who face death. I learn from them. There is much suffering in human existence (along with the joy) but I see death as the permanent cessation of suffering.
Anne thank you for also sharing your personal experience with death.
Death, like birth is something all living creatures will go through, so why live in fear of it? I found some comfort in the Mark Twain quote for my loss, and as a way to look at death. I do not claim to know the answers, but I guess I will find out in the end.
I've never been too worried about the afterlife. Who knows what happens after people die? Time will show, for each.
I think it'd make sense to recycle the souls, it would be way more economical than living once and throwing the soul/whatever away after. That would be such waste. ;)
Ever thought about the logistical problems about afterlife? When a christian, jew, or muslim dies, they die, and either go to hell/paradise/whatever, or to hell. But when a hindu dies, his soul is recycled and he is born again as a human, animal, plant or a stone. So... is a hindu always born in the next life as a hindu if he happens to live his next life as a human? Or what if a hindu happens to be born as a christian? Will they be born again as something else, or be defined to whatever his christian religion offers him? Or what if lets say a christian could find the reincarnation more appealing, or a hindu would want to go to heaven or paradise? Wondering that around the religious folks usually gets them confused - how could I possibly consider any other afterlife alternative than what they subscribe to?