Death Personified: Why Are We so Afraid?
What Is Death?
Death, for all intents and purposes, is the ceasing of all biological activity in an organism.
Breathing, metabolic processes, movement; when we reach death, we reach a state of homeostasis. Of true equilibrium. And it's not just literally; Death affects everyone, young and old, rich and poor. No matter the ethnicity or the gender or the power, in the end, everyone succumbs to the same, inevitable fate. After all, there's more to Death than the cold, rigid definition I'd given above, or the poetic weaving of words that followed right after.
But while we know this to be true, we refuse to think about it. We refuse to explore it, refuse to even acknowledge it at times. Whenever we talk of our own demise, people think we're right over the edge of depression, plunging into the depths of suicide. When we bring up the topic of death in general, we either get awkward laughs, or weird looks, before being asked the question, "What's wrong with you?
Why Don't People Like Talking About It?
So just what contributes to this awkwardness?
Well, you could say that no one likes thinking about their own demise. No one likes ceasing to exist. In fact, you could say that even the fear of being forgotten is something that tends to haunt us. It's the reason why so many of us are trying to incorporate ourselves into some fabric of society. With that, at least we'd be able to live on with that fragile aspect of our lives, one that, how we see it, would give us a chance at immortality. It's why many of us go on to write books, own businesses, volunteer here or there, even start families of our own.
Others are afraid of having to face life after death. Perhaps one religion was right, and because of it, we're all going to suffer for it, save a select minority. Maybe there really is nothing in the end. Maybe our souls are just as fragile as our own bodies, and when we die, we simply vanish out of existence, that everything we did in our lives is meaningless, or even worse than meaningless. But maybe this isn't the case. Maybe we know there's something out there, but are too scared to see it head on. After all, with movies like The Conjuring and Insidious, it's easy to fear the unknown.
However, another possible reason why is because of our culture. In Western culture, our society tends to think about our own immortality. Our entertainment, news, and even blog posts tend to emphasize our youth. The shows we watch are about adolescents, the stories we read about issues that adolescents face, and even the supernatural phenomenon taking over America about conquering death and staying young forever (regardless of whether or not you want to suck blood, kill innocents, Ect.)
We never want to talk about it. Instead, we'd choose to think of the beauty of life, of living forever, of being healthy. It's this fear that drives us to take up better lifestyle choices, to build or maintain relationships that make us feel good, that forces us to look at the smallest details of our lives, and eliminate anything we feel obstruct our health.
But Is This Really True?
However, in Eastern culture, death isn't something feared. Rather, it's something to be expected, inevitable, even calming at times. In Sweden, there are even death cafes, where people talk about death. My psychology professor has had surveys going around, asking the older generation how they feel about death. And while many people refuse to ask them these questions, the older generation feels particularly relieved that he even chose to ask them this.
And it's not just them. While religious people may tend to be the most death-fearing, it's because of the beliefs they have that bring equal relief. Even atheists, who choose not to believe in any deity, have a certain calmness about them, because they believe they know what's going to happen in the end. There are people who are fine with their own mortality, and simply worry about those who will be left behind, more than anything else. There are people who even welcome death, those who have been in palliative care for a long while, who signs those 'Do Not Resuscitate' forms simply because they believe they've lived long enough.
So just who, exactly, is afraid of death?
Old? Young? Religious? Non-religious? White? Black? Majority? Minority? Male? Female?
Disparities In Death
But while Death treats everyone equally, no matter the standing, it's clear that there are certain groups that die at a faster rate than others. More often than not, the people who die are often affected by racism, prejudice, disease, and poverty. People who are impoverished have higher mortality rates, whether it be in the slums or in less developed countries. This can be due to a number of factors, from a lack of access to proper healthcare, government corruption, pollution, ect. For example, minorities in America, such as African Americans and Hispanics, have a higher mortality rate than Whites.
But there's more to these disparities than statistics. These disparities reflect a larger, more prevalent issue in social justice, whether it be racism, prejudice, discrimination, or sexism. Our arrogant attitudes towards one another may contribute to these disparities. Actions like bullying can push someone over the edge, to the point where tragedies result in ways no one can imagine. It's the reason why there are so many movements advocating against these actions. Teens Against Bullying is an organization dedicated to stopping all types of bullying, virtual or not. Black Lives Matter is a movement that has actively been protesting against systematic corruption, corruption that has resulted in the loss of many lives. The National Suicide Prevention Line is a line that helps people who are thinking about suicide. The Nation's Leading Grassroots Voice on Domestic Violence is an organization that fights domestic abuse, endeavoring to save the lives of many from violence.
These actions have shown that Death, in and of itself, isn't the issue. What is the issue though, is that people's lives are getting cut short, that innocence is being degraded and destroyed. But more than that, it shows that people do, in fact, know that Death is apart of life, yet in order to have a meaningful death, they must also have a meaningful life.
So Should We Be Afraid of Death?
We all know we're going to die someday, regardless of what we believe, where we are in the world, or even the type of healthcare we have. After all, it is just a matter of time. Whatever miracle products there are, or the immortality paranormal romance often illustrates, we can't stave off that inevitability.
However, there are things we can do to help us cope with our death. We can spend time with our friends and family, and make sure they're alright. We can pursue our passions, and make sure we can help whatever we can. We can follow these disparities and fight for the rights that everyone should have.
Just remember that while there are people who fear death, there are just as many who embrace it. Whichever you fall under however, use those emotions to better yourself, and the lives around you.