Fear of Death
September 1, 2021
Portions of our countrymen have been at a near fever pitch of panic since the first wave of COVID-19 invaded Washington state in early 2020.
What are they so afraid of? Is it those who refuse to get vaccinated or wear masks?
No, such folks flexing their rights are just a physical scapegoat, a convenient target upon which can be laid the palpable fear and anger prompted by circumstances largely out of the control of anyone.
So what is it then?
It is death itself.
It is interesting to note that even as advanced as we have become as a species over the last several generations, we as a whole have not conquered our fear of death.
It is everywhere, yet our society hides from it.
When city dwellers buy meat at the grocery store, they are separated from the death involved in killing the pigs, chickens or cows. The meats are already prepared and sit in nice plastic and Styrofoam containers.
What a sanitized experience.
The buyer does not have to think about that animal, or about its sacrifice to keep us fed. Thinking about that could be unpleasant for some in modern society. Native Americans had no problem killing animals for food, but paused to give the creature thanks after the kill. This process was essential in connecting them to the circle of life from which we now hide.
Our society is obsessed with preventing death, or even its signs, such as aging. One only needs to watch television or browse the web for a short time before being bombarded with ads touting "anti-age" creams or vitamins promising to prolong life.
The only ads prompting folks to consider death are those involving life insurance. The ad men rely on guilt to drive the viewer to purchase the insurance - guilt for perhaps leaving untenable bills and responsibilities to those whom they will leave behind.
For the most part, the average Joe and Jane are shielded from the reality of death. Our society has done much to keep it behind a curtain. This leaves only those who have received a diagnosis for terminal illness, those who have recently lost a loved one or friend, and those who work in a profession such as law enforcement or in a hospital setting to stare death in the eye.
For everyone else, it is ignored because it is unpleasant.
This should not be.
Death is all around us, from the dead deer lying in the middle of the highway, to the sparrow that drops from the sky.
When death is placed behind a veil, it can be ignored but not entirely forgotten. In this life, the only certainty is "death and taxes."
The pandemic shook our culture out of its complacence. We all were reminded life is fragile and finite.
It is good to remember we are all destined to one day take our last breaths and slip away.
It is our choice whether we go gentle into that good night. Whether we face that inevitable death with grace, with bravery or with fear.
Some folks are not prepared for the reality of our own deaths, as is made abundantly clear by this pandemic.
It appears as if our country is experiencing the five stages of grief. Anyone who has lost a loved one will be familiar with this. The stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Mental experts say the stages do not necessarily happen in the preceding order, and that each stage can come and go with its companions in a sort of mental musical chairs.
It is possible the country has already made it through denial? Even us, the most powerful country on earth, cannot protect itself from a tiny virus. This is reality.
Nope, still in denial.
How about anger? No. The left may label those on the right who are opposed to mask and vaccine mandates as unintelligent or even responsible for any sort of adjacent deaths because they don't follow "the rules." Those on the right may think the left are a bunch of fascists with no regard for personal civil liberties.
While it is convenient to blame others or to become angry with those whom you don't agree with, it does nothing to address what so many are really afraid - their own mortality.
How about bargaining? That too is still playing out. "If we just get vaccinated, social distance, wear masks, etc., etc., maybe that will stave off death."
While this might be true to a point, it certainly will not prevent all deaths. Even now our silver bullet, the COVID-19 vaccine, doesn't always hit the mark.
Remember "15-days to flatten the curve?" That was a form of bargaining that has turned into more than 15-months.
How about depression?
I cannot remember a time since the Great Recession when the national attitude has been so dour. Even during the Great Recession, death itself wasn't a contributing factor. Instead it was greedy Wall Street fat cats manipulating the markets. Not the same thing.
That leads us finally to acceptance.
How do we achieve this?
The first step is to accept death is a constant reality and companion and to come to peace with that reality. In other words, smile at death and keep kicking while you can. You cannot escape it, but you need not fear it.
While getting vaccinated and wearing masks may help, no one has the right to tell anyone else how to deal with their own mortality. Some will choose to forsake both masks and vaccines, making up their own minds about how to face death.
Dealing with death is the most private act any of use will ever do. No other human can help us. It is something we must all face on our own.
No mortal being on earth can control the coming of death, the date or time of its arrival. To think otherwise is sheer hubris.
We must make peace with our mortality. Then, and only then, can we have the empathy necessary to deal with our fellow humans who all face the same inevitable conclusion of death.
Whether that be a result of COVID or one of the other countless ways in which we can die, the end result is the same.
Perhaps if our culture itself becomes aware of this, and accepts this truth, then we can move forward into a future free of fear.
What then could we accomplish? The limits of imagination, and beyond.