Life is for living!
And how I'd rather be whole, than good
Hello. This post is about Death.
It feels as though there’s a lot at play this week. A lot on my mind. I’m in the process of wrangling a whole host of experiences, observations, truths, beliefs, disappointments, and joys. I guess I could just say that I am living.
I read an online interaction a week or two ago which weighed heavily on me. I won’t direct you to it, there’s no need, I feel no malice towards the individuals involved and they’re both fully entitled to their own, unique relationships with Death. This is entirely about my own, internal experience and response to their conversation, which went a little something like this:
Individual 1: Do you ever think about death?
Individual 2: No, hardly ever, I don’t see the need
Individual 1: That’s good that you don’t think about it, life is for living! I’m happy for you
Individual 2: Hell yeah it is!
It was interesting to note how physical my response to this was. I think I actually slumped, my torso collapsing, my heart recoiling, literally backing away from the words. There was a lot going on. It was partly self-judgement, a part of me felt ashamed, my worst fears confirmed—“See, there is something wrong with you, no one should think about Death this much”, while another part just felt…sad. And for a while that was as far as I could get; the interaction made me feel sad.
Eventually, I realised that what was causing the sadness was the fact that the conversation implied that Death is somehow not a part of life—and that if you are thinking about, or engaging with, Death, then you are somehow not living.
To me, this feels equivalent to saying “It’s good that you don’t think about birth! Life’s for living!” or “It’s good that you don’t think about Winter, life’s for living!”.
I feel the need to qualify that while I feel saddened by this way of looking at things, I am also deeply compassionate towards it. As Stephen Jenksinson would say, we live in a death-intolerant, grief-illiterate culture. What does that mean?
We are actively encouraged to reject that which is ‘bad’. But what, in our culture, is ‘bad’? To answer this we might look at what is hailed as ‘good’. Productivity is good, youth is good, growth is good, accumulation is good, ownership is good, busyness is good, speed is good (instantness is better), the hustle is good, success is good.
And what might get in the way of all these ‘good’ things? I dare say that Grief would, and I dare say that Death would.
I’m not saying that anything in the list above is inherently bad, I have nothing against productivity, or youth, or growth—what I take issue with is the deification of these things, especially to the detriment of their opposites. ‘Doing nothing’ produces guilt, we are bombarded with ‘anti-ageing’ fixes, if your business isn’t experiencing exponential growth there’s something terribly wrong, you MUST buy this thing lest you be judged and found wanting—why wait for anything when you could have it NOW?
I’m not saying that anything in the list above is inherently bad, but I am saying that, culturally, we have lost touch with their opposites: doing nothing, ageing, stillness, decumulation, relinquishment, moving slowly, patience, acceptance—and, coincidentally, these are all things that Death will one day ask of us.
I am reminded of Carl Jung’s quote:
“I’d rather be whole, than good.”
There are parts of me that my psyche has rejected because I was taught that they were unacceptable. Angry parts, cruel parts, selfish parts, judgmental parts, terrified parts. I am in the process of trying to accept, and to love, these parts. I would rather be whole, than good.
Befriending someone when they are at the end of their life is a strange and wonderful thing. The friendship naturally deepens at a pace not in keeping with the usual unfolding of a relationship. It’s not urgent, necessarily, more fervent than anything—made so by the mutual acknowledgement of the fact that the end of the friendship, in its physical form, sits close-by. Made so by a mutual acknowledgment of Death.
I personally have little choice in regards to whether or not I think about Death, such is my chosen path, but I do encourage you, friend, to allow yourself to think about it from time to time. It is not ‘bad’ to think about it. You will still be living. You might even find yourself living more fully, for it.
Thank you for being here.
You are courageous, and you are loved.
As a reward for making it this far, please enjoy watching this fawn chomping on some tasty leaves at the rescue centre…🌿
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