Death: The best teacher of life


Back in the day, when we lived in huts and caves and small, darkish places, think of what that must have been like when grandma or grandpa died...

In most cases, they’d likely just lay down in the back of the hut and eventually pass away in front of you. Life, sickness, death, burial, and the ensuing traditions were all very intimate, spiritual rites.

Today, we keep death at arm’s reach. People usually die in hospitals.

Even if they pass in the presence of family and friends, their death is still largely handled by professionals in sterile white rooms.

Personally, to my sensitive ego, this is a good thing. I can’t handle death. I’ve never witnessed anyone take their last breath. I was insulated from my mom’s death. My grandparents all passed when I was away.

The closest I’ve ever come to witnessing a human death was caring for my dad during his final days. When his sickness became too much for me, he went to the hospital. When he died, I was called in shortly thereafter. I walked into the ICU to pick up his belongings and had to walk past his room. His door was cracked open just enough to where I could see his lifeless body.

That experience implanted something in my psyche. A deep regret. Something that remains unsettled to this day.

I feel I should have been there through his transition.

But thanks to the way we’ve set things up in today’s world, I had a choice to be there… Or not.

As nice and clean as this is, I feel like we’re missing something.

I feel that being closer to death might bring us closer to life.

Death is one of life’s best teachers. It puts things in perspective.

If we wall it off, it can haunt us like a ghost trapped in the wall. Like Poe’s Black Cat, the more we think we’ve protected ourselves against it, the more it wails and cries at us no matter how silent we think we’ve kept it.

Death never goes away, no matter how hard we try to protect ourselves from it.

We must make peace with death. Wholeheartedly sitting with a loved one through their transition can be one of the most transformative processes we can experience. As heart wrenching as this is, allowing life to take us through this process with eyes wide open (tearful and red as they may be) can deepen our life (and bring comfort to the one passing) like nothing else.

What lessons do we have to learn about life through death that we might be missing out on? If we saw the impermanence of this body up close — from sickness to passing to burial — how differently might we live our lives?

Wonder along with me for awhile…

Jonas Ellison is a spiritual writer, teacher, practitioner, and an interfaith minister-in-training. He helps people deepen their lives through applied spirituality while documenting his journey along the way.

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