death: The bittersweet teacher of life

Death, the hauntingly tragic sister to life, nudges us to contemplate a forbidding reality we often shy away from. Our varying experiences as humans may shape our circumstances differently and grant us varying degrees of opportunities or rights, but the one thing we all have in common is our fated ending. No one is greater than death; no one can escape it. It’s a natural cycle of life, much like the seasons changing and phases of our lives ending. Although our time here on earth is merely temporary, it is perhaps what makes it even more beautiful. 

In most Western cultures speaking about death is taboo, a depressing topic no one wants to discuss, especially around children. We want to resist death, try anything in our power to stay young and youthful, propelled by the fear of growing old and inevitably dying. If you grew up believing in heaven, death may have seemed less scary. The thought that one day you will see all your loved ones again, waiting for you at God’s pearly gates, may have brought you reprieve from the stark reality of death and impermanence. 

Believing in the afterlife doesn’t automatically mean you will face death fearlessly. You might wonder if you lived a good enough life to deserve a blissful afterlife. In Christianity, the faithful go to heaven and the sinners go to hell. In Hinduism, they believe reincarnation and karma are closely tied together. Reincarnation is the idea that there is an ongoing cycle of birth and death, all ruled by karma. The soul withstands death, and thus, is reborn into a new body. If you choose to act selflessly in one lifetime, you will continue to elevate your spiritual progress into the next. Essentially, your level of karma in one life will undoubtedly affect your new one. 

Death, more than anything else, forces us to reflect on our lives and contemplate our lifestyles. Is it really death that we are afraid of or our own fears surrounding the way we live? 

“Am I proud of who I am? Have I done everything I’d like to do? What kind of legacy do I want to leave behind?” 

Your views toward death and dying greatly impact how you act in life and ultimately, how you approach death.  

We associate the act of dying with death itself. There might be pain and suffering with dying which can be difficult to process but death is as natural as being born, which is painful in its own right. Like a birthday, death is another occasion to celebrate, in tandem with grieving. But the same acceptance for your own mortality may not apply to the death of your loved ones. It’s a battle that may never find a resolution. 

But with traditions like Day of the Dead, it may help alleviate the grieving process. Day of the Dead is a notable holiday in Latin American culture where they celebrate life and death as a day of remembrance, aiming to reunite the living and the dead. Mourning is viewed as an insult to their memory. 

When you celebrate the life and death of a loved one in this way, it creates a continuation of your relationship with them. This, in turn, can be very healing. Your relationship with the deceased never ends; it just transforms into something different.  

In our grief we can shy away from memories, afraid of the pain it will inflict on us. But it’s only when you stop talking about them and remembering their life that they truly die. Celebrating those who have passed honors their memory and keeps their love alive. 

When someone has been taken “too soon”, it complicates the nature of grieving. It seems like a punishment for someone’s life to end before they were able to really live. The pain you may feel isn’t only from losing them, but also from grieving over everything they won’t get to experience. In these instances, death seems cruelly unfair, but agonizing over the “why” will only leave you stuck in an endless loop of suffering. Having said that, even with answers, you can’t bring them back. Celebrating both life and death allows us to honor the lives of those who have passed, ensuring that even though they may not physically be with us, their memory lives on. 

Still, we may curse death for taking away someone we love. But as painfully blinding as grief is, there’s beauty underneath it all. Grief is love’s memento. To be able to feel the intensity of love through the grief of its loss is a blessing in itself. As your relationship transforms with the deceased, so too will your love. Grief becomes the love you can no longer share; the unexpressed emotions that linger, having nowhere to go. Grief is more than sorrow and suffering – it is made purely from love. Without it, grief wouldn’t exist. In a way, honoring your grief is honoring your love and should be worn like a medal around your neck. Only the blessed may grieve – not to have lost, but to have even loved at all.  

We can’t predict the future any more than we can predict what happens when we die. Why does one scare us more than the other? If we embraced it as our birthright, maybe we wouldn’t be so afraid. 

Once we truly accept our mortality, the next step is to live. Fully and passionately. Death is a gift because life is a gift. If we lived forever, would we appreciate just how precious this opportunity is? It’s an honor to be alive and experience everything we get to experience as humans. Death is a comma, the pause before what comes next. Maybe we should think about it more, if only to remember how sacred this life is. 

1 thought on “death: The bittersweet teacher of life”

  1. Dear Kaitlin, thank you for these exquisite reflections including the inspiration that death gives to the living and that grief as love with no place to go. May we find comfort and strength in love’s enduring presence.

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