Finding meaning in death August 24, 2017

It seems to me that in Western society, people generally, for whatever reason, find it difficult to come to terms with death, either their own, those close to them, or those around them.  What does it mean to die?  And why should we or would we, even think on such things?  Would finding meaning in death help us understand why we’re alive, what we’re living for, and how we might live our embodied lives differently?  And could this sense of meaning then revision not only how we might live our lives but conceptualise our purpose and help us think about what we’re living for?

Perhaps in humanity’s past people understood why they were alive much better than what we do today.  For example, the ancient Egyptians quite literally lived to die.  The Egyptian Book of the Dead, or rather the English translation of “yeret hur” Coming Forth by Day (its correct name) reveals a sophisticated spiritual belief-system and world-view which suggests that death was very much a part of the social fabric of life, (not just evidenced by the fact that the wealthy spent years building and decorating elaborate tombs well before their death).

To me this suggests a certain comfortability not only with death but with the afterlife – these people knew that they lived beyond death, they knew that how they lived their lives had an influence in shaping their spiritual destiny, and they prepared themselves for this destiny.  In reading the Coffin Texts one can sense that death was incorporated into life and that it was understood, and what’s more, that that understanding had its rightful place in the culture and society; death was embraced in a manner which was not only quite ordinary, but because it was an important transitory event.

Reflecting on this, it appears that our embodied lives are really only a means of preparation for something far more significant.  How do we understand this significance?  What is this significance?  Why aren’t we taught about this significance?

I have thought about death all my life; readers of this blog and those who know me can attest to this.  I was socialised into it as a child and that socialisation has never stopped, something which has made me realise how imperative it is that we do think about death as much as we think about life.  Elliott states it beautifully, “coming to terms with death is a lifetime’s work” as does Angela Tilby. “What is needed here is praeparatio mortis: preparation for death, a spiritual education in coming to terms with our mortality.  This is a task not for the last weeks of life – It is often too late by then …”.

Elliott, H. (2011). Moving beyond the medical model. Journal of holistic healthcare. Vol. 8, Issue 1, May.

Tilby, A. (2011). BBC Radio 4, Thought for the Day, 17 February.

Michele T Knight Written by:

Dr Michele Knight is a Social Worker, Social Scientist, researcher and independent scholar. Her interest and research in the end-of-life has its origin in the lived experiences of her own bereavements, her near-death and shared-death events, the returning deceased and attitudinal responses to those experiences. Since 2006, she has been extensively involved in community development, support and advocacy in both a professional and community services/voluntary capacity in the areas of bereavement and grief, hospital pastoral care, and academic lecturing/tutoring. Her PhD, Ways of Being: The alchemy of bereavement and communique, explores the lived experience of bereavement, grief, spirituality and unsought encounters with the returning deceased.

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