One of the great human failings is our inability to handle grief. There are not many things I find more emotionally taxing than trying to process and reconcile the permanence of death, and this is a commonality between us all. It is strange that, despite its certainty, the concept of death doesn’t become any less tragic or surmountable. It remains as a fixed and looming scythe over our optimism of better days.
You would have thought that in order to best equip the next generation with a playbook to tackle the complexity of life, we would have clearly outlined on the first page, “Everything is uncertain but death. The death of your loved ones will definitely happen.” We are able to desensitise ourselves to many of the horrors that the natural and man-made world has created, but for some reason, the uneasiness of death has maintained a vice grip on us for centuries. We have failed in our attempts to be rid of its stigma.
This is even in spite of the great spread of religions that have provided comfort in the face of death. Yet, even the promise of an eternal afterlife containing our wildest dreams and desires does not serve to alleviate the misery and futility that the Grim Reaper brings upon us. We can’t possibly imagine that things could be better in some faraway place, when our dearly departed’s best times were here with us, where they had spent their whole lives learning and growing. There’s a sense that things were just getting started, and that their untapped potential has been siphoned off to some fantasy land where it doesn’t nearly matter as much.
The most severe effect of death is that it ends hope. Heidegger described it as, “the end of possibilities, the total disintegration and end of the world.” We all are motivated by the knowledge that we endure suffering and hardship now, so to bear the fruits of our labour and perseverance later. But death robs us of that. The potential for a person to go on to do great things or simply enjoy their wonderful existence dissipates, and leaves behind a terrifying abyss that the living are left to stare into. Maybe we tell ourselves that they are in a better place as a preservation of hope, that they can ultimately fulfil their destiny in another place, if not where it matters most?
I have, fairly recently, sincerely internalised mortality. I know it’s not healthy or entirely useful to obsess about the wall that we are all walking towards, because I run the risk of not fully immersing myself in the present. I also don’t want to be driven into nihilism, by emphatically accepting that my actions are entirely meaningless. But they’re not meaningless in my immediacy, and could prove to be a springboard towards something that matters. I’m running toward death, not because I want it to embrace it, but because I want the full force of my accomplishments to make a dent in that final wall.
(C) Eve Ventrue