I recently saw a program about the “withdrawal” of life supports for a dying patient. The family was fighting medical professionals refusing the action. It made me think of how some say dying is about letting go; I wonder, who is it that needs to let go (and of what?) – the person dying or those left behind? And what is it that keeps people alive, keeps them from “letting go” – a love of life or a fear of death?

Interesting questions on a number of levels and perhaps not many ponder until faced with a situation involving death.  For me, I’ve spent a fair amount of time on these ideas over my life.  Some may think that with my situation they may have taken the fore, but not the case at all.  I think for me, there is the overriding “fascination” with the uncovering of the unknown.  Death, after all, is really an unknown phenomenon – outside the idea of the paranormal and ghosts, who has ever died and came back to life as we know it?  Those who believe they have done so will claim otherwise, but they reside on the fringes, with little “hard proof” – whatever that may be, of doing so.  For that matter, the experiences they describe are not an experience of “coming back as we know it”.

In considering the question(s) one might properly consider them separately and that is how I will start.  With that, the first consideration is that of “letting go”.  In a book I read by Gordon Livingston, whose son committed suicide after a long bout with bipolar disorder, he wrote something to the effect that the suicide, actually any suicide, is a selfish act.  He believed that in committing suicide the person effectively dismisses the value of those around them, devalues their love and caring.  I, on the other hand think it those who feel that way, feel they were devalued; may actually be the selfish ones.  In the case of Livingston’s son, he suffered from an intense case of bipolar disorder.  One might argue that the person experiencing the affliction has borne all they can, that the only relief is found in death.  Is it therefore incumbent upon those around the person to view the act as one of seeking peace rather than focusing on their loss, of being mad at the person?  I submit this because when considering the idea of “letting go” then, is it the living who in their acceptance of the dead that “let go”, that respect the death as moving on?

So now I’ve provoked the question of what is “moving on”. Letting go implies you have something to release. In the case of death, you release life, or do you? In pairing the phrase with “moving on” there is the implication that one lets go of something and proceeds to the next. In the case of most religions, the moving on is the process of going to heaven, hell or purgatory, depending on the particular belief system. In the case of the individual who has died, the letting go is comprised of releasing life from the body. The question here is whether that is possible, many think so. With moving on, the question becomes what moves on and to what does it move on to? This is an interesting question that provokes many opinions. For me, I’ve not really formed a clear picture or concept of either notion, but I do believe there is something beyond that which we know and experience in living.

The next question to consider is that of what keeps us alive, so to speak. Many believe they hold the belief they so enjoy their life, that they love life so much, that is their diving force. Others will contend the unknowns of death, the true uncertainty, is what drives us on. In exploring the latter, one can find a grounding in the precept – isn’t fear a major component of daily activities of living? When considering fear as a motivator, I think about how the vast majority of humans behave when enlightened versus how they behave when facing the unknown. With Halloween just passing, I had a good opportunity to witness this first hand.

My son and I are big fans of having the scariest house in the neighborhood and by most accounts others assign that honor to us. The key, at least as we see it, is to offer a scenario which presents a number of unknowns. The first is my son playing the “dead guy” and is so disguised the visitors are unable to determine if what they are looking at is real or fake. It is this unknown that gives them pause, despite knowing the whole thing is just a setup to have fun. Those who never having experienced our setups are sometimes too afraid to even approach the house (so I take the candy to them). The point here is the element of fear, however grounded, affects the human actions. The reality is, for the vast majority of people, death is the last frontier within the domain of the unknown. I think, at least in the end, even those with the strongest beliefs of what happens “after death” hold those beliefs on faith and are tested when faced with dying. Perhaps in the quest to live there is a point where the letting go is comprised of releasing the fear of dying and of the unknown.

As always, feel free to comment or you may email me at lifeabstractions@gmail.com



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